The St. James boys basketball team (14-6) opened their week with a pair of games against Steelville and Licking. The Tigers traveled to Steelville on Monday, Jan. 29, before hosting Licking on Tuesday, taking down Steelville 76-66 before falling to Licking 58-50.
The Tigers had a wild game at Steelville on Monday night. St. James was dominant in the first half, scoring 20 or more points in each of the first two quarters. Five different players scored in a 21-point first quarter, giving then a 21-17 lead through the opening quarter. St. James stepped up on the defensive end in the second, allowing just 13 points. They added another 20 points on the offensive end on the backs of Ivan Fuhring and Tyler Recker, who scored nine and seven points, respectively. St. James went into the half with a comfortable 41-30 lead.
Steelville woke up in the second half, scoring the first 13 points of the third quarter to take their only lead of the game 43-41. St. James head coach Ben Smith was called for two technical fouls at the tail end of that run and was forced to leave the floor. He was also had to miss the matchup with Licking on Tuesday. Dusty Craft and Robert Smith stepped into coaching duties for the rest of the game, but the senior leadership took things over on the court to push St. James in the second half.
The Tigers won the remainder of the third quarter to take a 51-45 lead into the fourth and carried that momentum into the final quarter. St. James spent a lot of the fourth quarter on the free throw line, converting 16 of their 19 attempts in the final frame to close out a 76-66 win.
Fuhring led St. James in scoring with 20 points in the win, while adding six rebounds. Ryan Harlan added another 16 points with a team-high five steals. Carter Keeney and Recker each scored 13, while Keeney added six boards and three assists. Bailey Terrill chipped in with another eight.
Things didn't get any easier for St. James on Tuesday, as JV head coach Zane Garr took over the coaching duties with coach Smith gone. The matchup with Licking provided a rematch of the consolation championship of the St. James Tournament that basically became a free throw shooting contest in the fourth. This time around saw fewer trips to the line, but it was close throughout the entire game.
Licking got out to a hot start thanks to a three from Michael Milhier, as Wildcats scored the first five points of the game. After that, the score balanced out. Licking maintained a small lead for a majority of the first quarter, but St. James was able to tie the game with a minute left in the first on a three by Recker, knotting the game at 14. He followed that up with a steal and score to give St. James a 16-14 lead that they carried into the second quarter.
That lead didn't stay with the Tigers for long, as Licking quickly tied the game at the beginning of the second. The lead traded hands throughout the entire second quarter. St. James' biggest lead of the quarter was four points when Mason Parker hit a floater to take the lead with two minutes left in the half, followed by a pair of free throws from Harlan. Licking responded with two free throws of their own, but St. James went into the half with a 30-28 lead.
After foul trouble started to hit both teams late in the second, St. James and Licking had to make adjustments after the half. The Tigers were without Terrill for most of the third quarter thanks to foul trouble, so St. James had to figure out how to defend against Licking's height. The Tigers used speed to their advantage to close gaps and shut down passing lanes to the Wildcat bigs, but G.T. Nicholson was still able to break free for one of his most productive quarters of the night with six points in the third.
Much like the second, the lead traded hands throughout the quarter. Both teams led by as many as four points in the quarter, but the game was locked at 39 in the final seconds of the quarter. Fuhring was able to score with about five seconds left in the third, but the Wildcats had just enough time to get the ball to Clabe Sullins, who launched a 75 foot shoot that dropped in to give Licking a 42-41 lead heading into the final quarter.
St. James kept grinding in the fourth, but it seemed like they were starting to run out of gas. This was the Tigers' eighth game in two weeks after playing in a pair of tournaments and it showed in the fourth. The effort was there, but they weren't able to shut down those passing lanes quite as well. Licking stretched their lead to 53-45 midway through the quarter. St. James was able to get as close as four points, but they couldn't close the gap down the stretch. Licking hit five of their six free throw attempts down the stretch to finish off a 58-50 win, getting revenge form the loss to the Tigers in the St. James Tournament.
"When it's back and forth like that, you just have to judge. Obviously we were trying to do what was set, but it didn't help that we got into a little foul trouble and we had to sit our big," said coach Garr. "The 75-footer that was made at the end of the third (didn't help either)...all-in-all it's good to see, but you hate to lose and have it get pulled away from you at the end like that."
Losing Terrill was one of the biggest difference makers in the second half, as it really forced St. James to change their approach on both sides of the ball. Terrill still managed eight points despite spending a lot of time on the bench, but he was one of their keys to victory after finding success against Licking in their last matchup.
"The first time we played them, I felt like we scored really well on the inside," said Garr. "Tonight they ran a 2-3 zone and really took away the middle from us...there just weren't any lanes, they did a very good job of that. Bailey was scoring, but when we took him out we quit finishing around the rim there."
Fuhring and Harlan each scored 13 points for St. James, while Recker added another nine points. While they won't use being tired as an excuse, their busy schedule didn't do them any favors late in the game.
"We've been playing a lot of games these past couple of weeks. We had a close one last night in Steelville and and we had a close one down to the wire tonight," said Garr. "We need to save their legs a little bit. We really started to notice it in the Hermann Tournament. Our first game was a little lackadaisical and I don't think it's from effort, I think we're starting to get a little fatigued."
The Tigers will take things a little lighter at practice the next couple of days so they can try to get their legs back for a big Four Rivers Conference game at Pacific on Friday, Feb. 2.