The St. James boys basketball team (8-4) opened their home tournament against Waynesville on Tuesday, Jan. 16. St. James and Waynesville went back and forth all night long, but Waynesville had the upper hand when the final seconds ticked away to beat the host 64-61.
Waynesville was able to set the pace of the game early on, forcing St. James to play in the half court. Waynesville pressed hard, but was quick enough to keep up with St. James to force them to slow down and find holes in a set offense, which is the opposite of how the Tigers like to play. Setting the pace helped Waynesville grab an early 9-6 lead, but St. James was able to adjust.
Tyler Recker subbed in midway through the first and instantly started to take the rock to the basket to cut the Waynesville lead to one. Once Recker made that first drive, his teammates followed suit and St. James found some ways to score. Most of St. James' scoring in the first came in the paint, as Bailey Terrill led the Tigers with eight points off the block. St. James was able to take their first lead of the game with 1:34 left in the quarter on a bucket by Carter Keeney, but Waynesville got a three from Gunner Rees with five seconds left in the quarter to give Waynesville a 14-12 lead through the opening quarter.
St. James was quickly able to tie the game in the second quarter thanks to some great shooting from Ivan Fuhring. Fuhring scored the Tigers' first five points to knot the game at 17. The lead went back and forth throughout the quarter, as Waynesville repeatedly took the lead back only to have St. James come back with a basket of their own to tie the game back up. St. James was able to take a small lead late in the quarter, but Waynesville managed to go into the half with a 30-28 lead.
The third quarter mirrored the first two, as neither team was able to control the game at any point in the quarter. Neither team led by more than three points in the quarter, with both teams hitting some big shots to keep things close. Tahja Stewart and Carson Cavalier each hit clutch threes in the third to five Waynesville leads in the quarter, but St. James always managed to have a response. Mason Parker was able to bury a three of his own to give St. James a lead with just over two minutes to play, but Cavalier's three gave Waynesville a 43-41 lead heading into the fourth.
After three quarters of back and forth basketball, Waynesville came out shooting in the fourth. Cavalier hit a pair of deep threes for Waynesville to give the Tigers their first comfortable lead in the game. Waynesville's lead was able to balloon out to 54-44 three minutes into the quarter. St. James wasn't ready to call it a night yet though, as they started to whittle that lead down for the next few minutes.
Terrill and Ryan Harlan helped chip into that lead and St. James was able to score the next six points to bring the score to 54-50. Caleb Barnes hit a shot for Waynesville to end the streak, but St. James was able to keep Waynesville within six points for the rest of the game. Ty Uffman was able to hit a big three for St. James to bring the score to 58-55 with three minutes left to play, but Waynesville came right back with a three of their own from Rees. St. James went on to score the next four points of the game with pair of free throws from Harlan and a drive by Fuhring, cutting the score to 61-59 with 1:20 left to play.
St. James was forced to foul in the final minute of the game, where David Adams sank a pair of free throws with 46.6 seconds left in the game. St. James responded with a layup by Harlan on the other end. Adams went to the line again on Waynesville's next possession, as Fuhring fouled out for St. James. Adams missed the free throw, but Barnes grabbed a huge offensive board for Waynesville to burn a few more seconds off the clock. He was able to get the ball to Rees, who was fouled, but missed his first free throw of a one-and-one with 18.2 seconds left.
St. James had a chance to tie the game with just over six seconds left in the game. They put the ball in Harlan's hands and the senior drove hard into the lane, while being defended by Tanner Simpson. This proved to be one of the most crucial plays of the game, as the whistle blew for a foul. Much to St. James' chagrin, Harlan was called for an offensive foul, which sent him to the bench with five fouls. Waynesville then inbounded the ball to freshman Shaq Fregiste, who was instantly fouled. Fregiste hit one free throw to stretch Waynesville's lead to 64-61. St. James needed a three to force overtime, but couldn't get a shot off and they took a tough three point loss.
One of the things that killed St. James in the loss was free throws. The Tigers were 12-23 at the charity stripe in the game and missed five in the fourth quarter alone. In a three point game, every free throw counts.
"I feel like we maybe should've done a few things earlier on, hit some free throws. I think at one point we missed four or five straight. We missed a couple of layups," said head coach Ben Smith. "If we execute those early on, that (charge) doesn't become as big a play...whether I agree with the call is kind of irrelevant, because he's the one that made it and ultimately that's what matters, but I thought our guys did a great job of battling back, being aggressive."
Terrill led the Tigers offensively with 18 points in the loss. Harlan wasn't too far behind with 17, while Fuhring added another 10. Coach Smith praised his team's effort throughout the entire contest, because they never let Waynesville stretch their lead out too far.
"I thought we did a good job of never letting them get ahead enough to take us completely out of the game," said the St. James head coach. "They're a good team, they shoot the ball well, they're very athletic. It was a good experience for us to play them, I just wish it would've turned out a little different.
"I told the guys after the game that I thought we were good enough to beat them, it wasn't a typical 6-3 (seed) game," continued coach Smith.
Coach Smith has a simple lesson that he wants his team to take into their consolation bracket game against Newburg on Thursday, Jan. 18 and that's the fact that they can compete against anybody.
"That they can compete with anybody. We've said that all year, that we have to believe that we can compete," said Smith. "We have to have every loose ball, it doesn't matter if we're playing Waynesville or a team that we know we're better than. We have to come out ready to go and treat every game the same. They'll bounce back. They're tough kids and they're not happy right now, but they'll bounce back."