The Rolla boys basketball team opened the St. James Tournament against a familiar foe, as they faced off against Salem for the third time this season on Tuesday, Jan. 15. The Bulldogs got out to a rough start and dug a nine point hole, but a huge second half from Alec Buhr lifted Rolla to a 58-50 win.
After getting out to a five point lead early, the Rolla offense completely dried up against Salem. The Bulldogs couldn't get a shot to fall for the second half of the first quarter, as Salem chipped away and eventually took the lead. Reese Dodson was lights out for Salem, scoring nine 11 points on a trio of threes. The Tigers had Rolla on the back foot for a majority of the quarter and took a 19-12 lead into the second.
The second quarter mirrored the first, as Rolla just could not get a shot to fall. The normally potent Bulldog offense scored just six points in the frame. Rolla's defense played well enough to keep them in the game, however, as Salem managed just eight points in response. Jordan Shultz scored all eight points for the Tigers in the quarter, as Rolla went into the half trailing 27-18.
After the half, Buhr took over. The senior forward was electric in the third quarter, sparking the Rolla offense with 14 points after being held to just two points in the entire first half. The Bulldogs chipped away on the power of Buhr's offense, as the senior hit three late free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt to cut the deficit to 39-37.
Colby Shivers quickly tied the game for Rolla with a pair of free throws to open the fourth, before giving Rolla their first lead since the middle of the first quarter by driving down the baseline for a layup. The rest of the fourth quarter saw the two teams trading blows. Dodson responded with a three, before a pair of free throws from Trey Quick gave the lead back to Rolla. He then added a layup to give the Bulldogs a three point lead. The lead remained slim for Rolla until Blaize Klossner hit a much needed three with 1:56 left to play, which gave Rolla a 50-46 lead. The Bulldogs finished the game with a perfect performance at the charity stripe, hitting all 10 attempts in the fourth. Buhr then sealed the victory with an emphatic dunk in the final seconds, putting a cherry on top of the 58-50 comeback win.
"That's one of those games where you give Salem a lot of credit, because it felt like they played with a lot of effort and the effort that they played with helped them knock down some shots, they rebounded hard, they beat us to loose balls," said Rolla head coach Mark Miller after the game. "Fortunately, we didn't panic. Things weren't going our way, but we didn't panic.
"The guys overcame a really poor shooting night, overcame a night where they didn't play as hard as they might normally play, we got out rebounded, but we still found a way to get it done," continued Miller."
Buhr finished the game with 22 points, 20 of which came in the second half. His performance after the half is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bulldogs. Quick added 10 points in the paint, while Klossner chipped in with eight. Shivers and Muluken Pritchett each had seven points in the win, while RJ Alfred and Danny Foster each added two.
While it was far from a perfect win for the Bulldogs, coach Miller knows his team has what it takes to win without playing their best basketball and they proved that again on Tuesday night.
"This team is not unfamiliar with coming from behind," said coach Miller. "Definitely as the season has gone on, we've gotten out to leads and done a better job, but early on we were winning games by coming back from big deficits. They didn't panic, they were still comfortable in the situation even though they were down and I felt like they maintained their composure and closed it out the right way."
The Bulldogs will now play Blair Oaks in the tournament semifinal on Thursday at 6:30.