The Rolla boys basketball team (12-1) opened the St. James Tournament against Salem on Wednesday, Jan. 17. The top seeded Bulldogs struggled shooting in the first half, but picked things up in the second to run away with a 77-40 win.
Rolla controlled the pace of the game early on, but just couldn't get a shot to fall. The Bulldogs dominated the boards and forced several turnovers, but consistently missed open looks in the first half. As a result, neither team could take control of the game early. One and two point leads were traded throughout the first quarter. Salem was able to take a 19-14 lead into the second thanks to a last second three by Logan Clinton.
Rolla picked things up in the second quarter when Josh Pritchett opened the quarter with a three to get the Bulldogs within two. Nick Janke then tied the game to kick off a great quarter for the senior forward. Janke scored eight points in the quarter and scored a total of 13 points in the first half. While Rolla struggled to shoot from the outside in the first half, Janke was able to provide consistent scoring in the paint to keep Rolla in the game. Janke gave Rolla a lead midway through the quarter that the Bulldogs would never surrender. Rolla then went on to score four points in the final 15 seconds of the half to go into halftime with a 30-24 lead.
"(Janke) started being strong with the ball, that helped us," said Rolla head coach Mark Miller. "We didn't do a lot from the perimeter tonight, it was one where we needed to take it inside mostly."
After halftime, the Bulldogs kicked into gear. Pritchett came out of the gate in the third quarter by scoring the first six points by either team to give Roll a double digit lead. Rolla went on to score the first eight points of the half, forcing Salem to call a timeout. The Tigers recovered after the timeout, but they couldn't slow Rolla down. Alec Buhr was on fire at the end of the quarter with a pair of threes, the second of which came as he was falling to the ground at the buzzer. Those threes helped give Rolla a 58-39 lead going into the fourth.
Buhr didn't cool down between quarters, as he opened the fourth by burying his third three-pointer of the night. That set the tone for what would be a dominant fourth quarter for the Bulldogs. Salem scored just one point in the first quarter and that point didn't come until the final minute of the game. By that point, Rolla had already scored 19 points in the quarter and stretched their lead over 30 points to put the turbo clock into effect. The Bulldogs went on to win the game 77-40.
Janke led Rolla in scoring with 15 points, 13 of which came in the first half. Pritchett added another 13 points, while Buhr chipped in with 12. Davie Pound and Aaron Cunningham both had solid games off the bench with nine points a piece.
Coach Miller said that the slow start can probably be attributed to a couple of things. The weather kept Rolla from being able to hit the gym as much as they'd like and several people were fighting injuries and sickness. Buhr, among others, were fighting a bug that sent the Rolla junior to the locker room at one point in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs manages to persevere and figure things out in the second half.
"It's partially the layoff, it's partially sickness, partially just being kind of flat. Sometimes you come out like that. We were definitely flat that first half," said coach Miller. "We definitely got recovered at halftime and came out with real good energy in the second half.
"There's a lot of guys that are battling," continued Miller. "Alec was definitely a spark, but he needed to be. Somebody had to step up."
Coach Miller knows that every team is occasionally gonna have one of those nights where the shots don't fall. He was just glad his team was able to come out with a blowout win on one of those nights.
"It was just one of those nights. You have nights like that where things don't go your way," said coach Miller. "I'm just really thankful that you have one of those nights and you get to win by 37."
Rolla will face off against Sullivan in the tournament's semi-final on Friday, Jan. 19. Coach Miller knows they'll be running into a smart and well coached team in the Eagles.
"They've got good shooters, kids that work really hard," said the Rolla head coach. "They'll be prepared. They watched us tonight, so they'll have a game plan. Our whole deal is that we've gotta come out and do what we do well and we need to get healthy."