Van-Far varsity boys basketball coach Pat Connaway said the squad was able to dig in with an intimidating Elsberry club but couldn’t pull out a last-minute win in the first round of the annual Bowling Green Tournament.
The Van-Far boys fell late 43-39 to Elsberry’s Indians.
“I was very pleased with the way we went about things tonight,” Connaway said. “When we played them in December, we were intimidated by them and we dug ourselves a huge hole before playing with them point-for-point in the second half.”
Van-Far was down 11-10 by the end of the first quarter after taking an early 5-0 lead.
“Our main message in the pre-game, we preached ‘No Fear’ and the kids came out and played exactly that way,” Connaway said. “We jumped out to a 5-0 lead and a 10-5 lead which gave us confidence that we could play with them. We did a good job of taking care of the basketball and were able to get good open looks against their 1-2-2 zone.”
The Indians held up in the second quarter, narrowly losing the frame 13-8.
“Defensively we discussed switching defenses, having great communication, and being active the entire night,” Connaway said. “We did a good job in our 2-3 and were able to play it the entire night before switching to man late in the third quarter. We did have some mental lapses where we didn’t block-out and we gave up a lot of second-chance baskets.”
Despite the lapses, the switch gave Van-Far an edge and the squad was able to take the third quarter 12-8, down by just two points.
“We wanted to be in the game going into the fourth quarter and we knew if we could hang around they would start to get frustrated,” Connaway said. “Elsberry’s frustration caused their leading scorer 6’8” Kenny Lesley to foul out early in the fourth and also caused them to commit some fouls which gave us opportunities at the foul line.”
Connaway said trouble capitalizing at the line kept Elsberry alive.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize from the line going 7-for-16 for the game and 3-for-10 in the second half,” Connaway said. “If we are able to knock down our foul shots, they would have been chasing us.”
Despite the missed shots, Connaway said Van-Far still had a chance to pull out a late win. But a missed shot from Logan Boyd, resulting in a turnover, an illegal screen called on Brian Kurz’s pass to Ethan Gooch, and foul trouble led to two successful Elsberry free throws that put a win out of reach for the Indians.
“It was a very hard fought, but disappointing loss for our boys,” Connaway said. “We can’t be happy with ‘just playing with’ these good teams, we need to be able to knock them off. We are right there in all these games, but we just can’t find a way to finish. We are getting better and are competing with these top teams in the area, we just aren’t getting the W’s that are right there for us.”
Kurz and Nick Barnes led the Indians with 13 points each; Gooch added nine points; and Ryan Nelson and Boyd each chipped in two points.
Falls to Silex
With Van-Far feeling the effects of the loss to Elsberry, Connaway said the club came out flat and sluggish in the consolation semifinal game against Silex, falling 52-44.
“I had challenged them not to have a repeat performance of the Palmyra Tournament where we played really well and lost to a good Highland team and then came out flat and got buried by Monroe City. Unfortunately we did repeat that performance,” he said. “We just didn’t play very well at all tonight. Our effort wasn’t as good as it needed to be especially on the defensive end. We were trailing cuts, not getting off the ball and our help side defense wasn’t there. Overall defensively we weren’t very good. We lost shooters and they made us pay.”
Van-Far was down two points after an 8-6 first quarter and won the second frame 13-11 to tie Silex at 19 points.
A 16-15 third quarter left the Indians down by just one point before Silex delivered a late 17-10 run for the win.
“We missed several easy baskets in the paint and several wide open three-pointers,” Connaway said. “We were 2-for-19 from (the perimeter) tonight. We have been shooting about 35% on the year. We shot just 29% from the field.”
Kurz and Gooch led with 11 points each; Nelson followed with nine points; John Gerdeman tallied eight points; Barnes had three; and Boyd added two points.
The one bright spot on the offensive end was our free throw shooting, we finally had a game where we shot over 70 percent as a team from the foul line,” Connaway said. “Even though we didn’t play particularly well tonight there aren’t very many games you lose when you have more shots, more rebounds, less turnovers, and shoot more free throws than your opponent. Tonight was another example of being “in” the game and not being able to finish in the fourth quarter. I told the boys that those are games that good ball clubs pull off. We need to be able to learn how to win even when you don’t play your best.”