Blaize Klossner has spent the last couple of games working his way back into the fold after an injury and he got to put an exclamation point on that return when Rolla (21-1, 7-0 OC) traveled to Kickapoo on Tuesday, Feb. 13. With the clock winding down and the game tied at 50, Klossner buried a three at the buzzer to lift the Bulldogs to victory.
The Bulldogs beat another Ozark Conference opponent in Parkview with a game-winning three by Davie Pound last week and it happened again against Kickapoo. Head coach Mark Miller was already glad to see Klossner return to the lineup, but Tuesday's game-winner showed how much of an impact he makes on the court.
"Just the simple fact that we're getting Blaize back (helps us," said coach Miller. "Anytime you get the return of a starter to the team and they can do big things for you like he did in the clutch last night for us, it's going to make us stronger."
Rolla's gameplan throughout that night was to have their slashers Josh Pritchett and Alec Buhr drive to the basket and if the shots weren't there, they'd dish out. That was evident throughout the game as Pritchett put on a show. The senior led the way with 25 points and scored at least four in every quarter of the game. That game-winner also came on a drive and dish from Pritchett.
"Our plan was for Josh or Alec to attack the basket, get to the rim if they could and, if not, find and open kick. As Josh attacked, the defense came to him and they left Blaize wide open," said coach Miller. "Blaize stepped up and knocked down that three."
Defense was the key for Rolla early on, as they were able to build a seven point lead at the half by slowing down Kickpoo's shooters. The Bulldogs scored 25 points in the first half, while holding Kickapoo to 18 points and only two threes.
The Chiefs woke up behind the three point line in the second half, as Sam Wallin started to light it up. Wallin knocked down five threes in the second half, three of which came in the third quarter as Kickpoo cut the Rolla lead to 40-35. The Chiefs also got a pair of threes from Tanner Oetting in the second half.
Rolla was able to maintain their lead in the third quarter thanks to great performances from Pritchett and Nick Janke. Both scored six points in the third, while Coby Martin hit a three to hold onto their five point lead. That slim lead went away in the fourth, but another eight points from Pritchett and a smart decision to pass on the final possession set up a buzzer beater.
Pritchett led all scorers with 25 points in the victory. Martin added another eight points and Janke scored six, while Klossner and Buhr each chipped in with five. Pritchett's scoring effort is what coach Miller has expected from his star player in big games.
"That's what you expect out of a guy like Josh," said Miller. "He's proven that he can be the go-to guy when called upon."
Rolla has had some tough conference games here down the stretch and it doesn't get much easier. Rolla will travel to Glendale on Friday, Feb. 16 for a matchup of the last two undefeated teams in the Ozark Conference. Both teams are 7-0 against conference teams and Glendale comes in with an overall record of 15-6. Rolla will also have to face Waynesville, who has just two losses in the Ozark Conference. Coach Miller knows he'll be seeing the best those two teams have to offer down the stretch.
"The thing is, we're gonna get everybody's best game against us as we go down the stretch. That's what's seemed to be happening," said coach Miller. "We didn't particularly play real well last night and to survive that and beat Kickapoo on their home floor, that was big for us."
The Bulldogs will have a tough matchup with Glendale on the road. The Falcons love to shoot from long range and have a number of guys who can connect from behind the arc.
"If we could play 10 on five, that's what we're looking for," said Miller with a laugh. "They've got a lot of shooters and we're gonna have to play some of the best defense we've played all season. We need to create a little offense too, which I think is always a challenge when you're away from home."
Rolla also snuck away with a 47-46 win in the JV game. They were led by 12 points from Trey Brown, while Jack Hounsom added another 10 points.