Because the Van-Far and Mexico varsity boys basketball teams each suffered its first loss of 2017-18 last Friday, both of these squads were looking to right what was wrong when they went head-to-head in the main event of the six-team Gary Filbert Classic on Saturday at the Bulldogs.
Now, while it's obvious that doesn't leave much room for discussion since only one team could walk away from this contest happy, when the first quarter ended with Van-Far leading 18-15, it appeared this test of wills was going to take some time before a clear favorite emerged. But, when the Indians then stretched that advantage to 42-23 at the end of the second quarter, it took the Bulldogs all the way until 1:55 of the fourth to pull within 68-55 before ending up on the wrong end of a 78-62 decision.
"Van-Far shot 67 percent from the field and we didn't get off to a good start defensively. They made shots and held us to one shot and out, and I thought that was key," said Mexico head coach Darren Pappas. "It's never fun to lose, but having early success, I knew losing a game or two could be a possibility. You're always going to have a target on you back every single night. Somebody always wants to knock you off. We just have to get over this hump, turn it around and get back to winning."
With the Indians' Lathyn McMorris blowing up for over 30 points on the night, Mexico's fourth quarter run began by cutting a 56-31 deficit to 60-42 and then 64-47 at 4:39 and 3:40 on the shoulders of players like Tyler Spargo and Jai Lawson, who scored 20 and 13, respectively. The Bulldogs even managed to pull within 67-53 at 2:20 and 72-57 at :59.6, but even eight points each by J'Marquay McGruder and Vern Williams wasn't enough to keep Van-Far from claiming this 16-point victory.
"I thought Spargo battled through and played a lot of minutes, which we need him to do every single night. We still need a little more more on the defensive end, but offensively I think he did the best that he could," Pappas said. "When we found him, Spargo hit some big shots. Now we need to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we need to do to get better."
Prior to that Van-Far began the second by going on an 11-0 tear that featured nine points by McMorris, including a field goal at 6:54 and two free throws at 4:53. Caden Wilburn also charted two of his eight points during that time to help the Indians go up 29-15 and Josh Hodde boosted that advantage to 31-17 at 4:00. McMorris then put this quarter to rest the same way he kicked it off by going on a one-man, 7-2 run that gave his squad a 19-point lead at halftime.
"McMorris is incredible. The things he does. How he finds ways to score," said Van-Far coach Pat Connaway. "Everybody knows he can shoot the ball, but the way he can attack the rim, he's got such long arms. He can finish from different angles because he's lanky."
For Mexico, 5-2 overall, it got a six-point contribution from Cameron Holman, as well.
As for Van-Far, 6-1 overall, Trey Miller also gave a 14-point performance, Collin Wilburn scored six and Brayden Christian had four points.
"We came out of the gates hard and fast. Big difference from (last Friday) against Monroe County," Connaway said. "Tonight was our fourth game in five days, so I was worried about our legs. Against Monroe County we were three or four steps slow. In this game we battled, talked on defense and we wanted to get the shooters. We know (Spargo) is a good shooter, but we got out on the open floor, and that's when we're at our best. We've got good athletes who can finish at the rim."