Of all the varsity boys’ basketball offensive strategies and mindsets in the Eastern Missouri Conference this season, two of the most prolific are Van-Far and Montgomery County.
Both of these squad have been lighting up opposing defenses at an alarming rate in 2017-18 and the only thing that slowed the Indians down was Lathyn McMorris’ midseason ankle injury. Now that he’s been back for several games even that barrier has been removed, so when Van-Far traveled to the Wildcats for a league game on Tuesday, the potential for one or both of these teams to reach a hundred points simply wasn’t out of the question.
Indians head coach was well aware of that possibility and wanted nothing to do with it, though. Instead he chose to rely on a defensive-oriented approach that focused on not allowing easy baskets, be it from two feet away or from behind the three-point line and it worked as Van-Far was able to defeat Montgomery County 71-57.
“We knew Montgomery County could score. They’re a high powered offense,” said Van-Far coach Pat Connaway. “Ever since we played poorly against Canton and they throttled us, we’ve switched things up. We changed one of our defenses and committed to getting after it. When you can hold a team like this to 57 points, you’re doing a pretty good job. I’m very pleased with our effort. We could have boarded a little better and hit some free throws, but defense was key.”
Because the second quarter ended with the Indians clinging to a 33-31 lead, the Wildcats were elated when Chris Harrison hit the initial basket of the third to tie the game before Van-Far went on a 5-2 run to go back up 38-35 at 5:21. Johnny Shaw’s free throw for Montgomery County once again dead-locked the score at 38-38, but when the Indians countered by scoring eight-straight that included a triple and a field goal by McMorris, a trend was starting to take hold.
“One difference tonight was the way we shared the basketball. The kids don’t care who scored. They’re just doing everything they can to win,” Connaway said. “When you’ve got balance like we did in this game, we almost had all of our starters score in double digits and the kids off the bench did play that much, but when they did they were doing the right things. It’s a total team win and that’s what I’m going to take away from this. The kids played hard and fought.”
Now leading 50-42 to begin the fourth, that advantage grew to 58-48 at 4:58 despite three-straight baskets by the Wildcats Cole Curry because of three-pointers from Van-Far’s Caden Wilburn and McMorris and a hoop by Brayden Christian. That led to three points from Josh Hodde and four points from Trey Miller for the Indians that Montgomery County countered with a field goal and a free throw by Aubrey Nelson, and that’s when the intentional fouls began.
“They have a lot of hustle and it showed. Van-Far got a lot of second-chance opportunities and whenever they did get those opportunities to get open shots, they took them,” said Montgomery County head coach Scott Kroeger. “Both offensively and defensively we didn’t have quite enough. McMorris of Van-Far was good off the bounce and took it to the rack well. He also made some big shots, including four three-pointers, which was big for them.”
Despite only being several games into his comeback from that ankle injury suffered against Mexico in December during the Gary Filbert Classic, it was McMorris that led Van-Far with 20 points, Miller backed him up by scoring 14 and Wilburn added 13 points to this mix. Christian also made a 12 point contribution and Hodde had an eight-point performance.
“The things McMorris can do with both hands are impressive. He’s still not quite 100 percent. He’s getting closer,” Connaway said. “I think we’ll see him get better in the next two weeks, but just the things he can do. He shifts defensive focus to him and that opens things up in the middle for everyone else. We’re playing well right now. We’ve got some things we still need to do to keep getting better so we’ll be playing our best at the end of February, but confidence is high.”
Montgomery County is now 15-5 overall, 3-2 EMO.