What makes the Madison varsity boys and girls varsity basketball tournament so different from all the others is that this one starts at the end of one year and then picks back up at the start of the next.
For the Van-Far boys, this didn't change the fact it was going to be without leading scorer Lathyn McMorris, who hurt his ankle at Mexico last month during the Gary Filbert Classic.
Community R-6, on the other hand, would have loved to take advantage of that unpleasant turn of events for the Indians when these two squads squared off in the winners bracket of this invitational on Wednesday, but with its own leading scorer, Bobby Jett, at home with the flu, that wasn't possible. Instead, the Indians pulled out to a 27-12 lead in the second quarter and then held on in the second half to defeat the Trojans 45-32.
"I think the way Caden Wilburn played for us was a huge difference. He was aggressive tonight, he attacked the im and he finished hard," said Van-Far coach Pat Connaway. "We weren't very sharp tonight. I don't know if it was the layoff, but we allowed them to slow us down. In the open floor, that's where we're at our best. That really effected us, but we've got to be better than that. CR-6 played hard and hustled. We knew they were going to scrap and fight. It's good to not play your best and still win."
Van-Far controlled the opening half by posting a 9-7 lead in the first quarter and then going on an 18-5 run in the second that began with field goals by Trey Miller, Joshe Hodde and Brayden Christian. Caden Wilburn then scored six of the Indians next 10, which also featured hoops by Hodde and Miller. CR-6, on the other hand, got an early three pointer from Eric Hombs and a late basket from Cordell Hollensteiner to head into halftime down by 15.
"If we had played like this last year we would have lost. Now we're playing for a tournament championship. We've got a lot of work to do, but the kids realize that," Connaway said. "Now we go back to square one like we do after every game and see where and how we need to get better."
The third quarter had a very different theme that included Van-Far charting a score a piece from Miller and Wilburn while going 0-for-4 from the free throw line as a team. As for the Trojans, not only did they come out from the break with a renewed sense of spirit on defense, but the team also got five points from Hollensteiner, Hombs made a four point contribution and adding the initial score was Kyle Oligschlaeger, all of which helped cut the Indians advantage to 32-23 with one quarter left to play.
"We ran out of gas at the end and we didn't hit shots in the first half. I don't know what our shot percentage was in the first and second quarters, but the ball just kept going in and out of the rim," said CR-6 head coach Matt Thomas. "We just didn't have enough offense. This was the kids first day back at school and some of the guys aren't feeling well. We still did some good stuff. In the second half we slowed them down, made them chase us a lot and kept the score low, which is where we wanted it."
In the fourth Hollensteiner did his best to get CR-6 back in the mix with seven points for the session, but eventually Van-Far stopped shooting the ball and started playing keep away. This forced the Trojans to foul, which Hodde and Christian turned into a combined five points, and while this contest was contested until the clock ran dry, in the end it was the Indians that came out on top by 13.
"Hollensteiner played well tonight, but with Jett being gone they were able to just key on him. That took a lot of options and choices away from him, but I thought Eric Hombs stepped up and played really well," Thomas said. "Hombs hit a couple three-pointers and I told him to keep shooting because Van-Far didn't think he could. At the end we tried to press and foul, but we let them get out of the press without fouling and they went down and got two lay ups in-a-row after we scored, and that hurt."
The rest of the girls brackets on Jan. 4 featured Madison playing Community R-6 and the Salisbury JV faced Mark Twain. The boys bracket, both winners and losers, concludes Saturday.
"McMorris will be out at least another couple weeks. We need him, but we want to make sure he's 100 percent instead of rushing him back," said Connaway. "There can't be anything lingering. It's more important that he's healthy at the end of February than at the start of January. We won't win every game between now and then, but this will make us stronger, especially our bench. Hopefully he's back by the time we play in the Palmyra tournament, which is about Feb. 15 or so."