When the Van-Far Indians earned a rematch with the host Canton Tigers in the Class 2, District 6 finals after two wins, the Indians were focused on avenging a 31-point loss to the same team just one month earlier in the Palmyra Tournament.
“We wanted to show them we were a lot better team than they played a month ago,” said Van-Far head coach Pat Connaway whose squad didn’t play well in the first meeting and did not have the services of an injured Lathyn McMorris.
Players Trey Miller and Josh Hodde set the tempo early in the district finals with aggressive play inside the paint and in attacking the basket right from the opening tip.
Every time Canton went on a run, Van-Far had an answer to regain the momentum for all 32 minutes.
This led to the Indians muscling their way to the free throw line in the fourth quarter, where they ended up making an astounding 19-of-23.
In spite of Canton’s huge 3-pointer with :52.6 seconds left to cut the lead to five, Brayden Christian made two big free throws after a quick foul to stop the clock. McMorris hit two of his final four free throws in a :13 span to seal a 67-64 victory. His last came with 13.5 seconds left in the game.
Canton hit a late shot, but with no more time outs, the time ticked off, the buzzer sounded, and the Indians won their first district title since 2006.The Indians finished the game by making 30-of-42 free throws.
“It’s unreal to go 19-of-23 in the fourth quarter with the district championship on the line,” Connaway said. “It shows about the poise they had. It’s a real testament for them, in crunch time, when the game is on the line, that they shot the ball with confidence. I was very pleased and amazed with them.”
In the first quarter, there were multiple lead changes.
While Canton had success with hitting jump shots, Van-Far’s success came with being aggressive and getting to the free throw line or scoring in the paint.
Miller had six points and Hodde added five in the first.
In the second quarter, the Indians had an 8-0 run before Canton rallied.
Van-Far led 29-27 at halftime as they had just two first-half turnovers.
In the third quarter, there were several backbreaking plays for the Indians due to their perimeter shooting. Tied at 31, a big 3-pointer came when Christian pulled up in transition and nailed one from the outside.
“To pull one in transition, especially with Lance guarding him, was just huge,” Connaway said. “The way everyone responded to it…a big momentum shift.”
Van-Far had four 3-pointers in the quarter as McMorris made two of them. Hodde was then fouled on a 3-point shot near half court at the buzzer. He made 2-of-3 free throws to push the lead to seven.
In the fourth quarter, McMorris made 6-of-8 free throws, Christian was 6-of-7 from the line, Miller hit 5-of-6, and Caden Wilburn made both of his free throws. Miller finished the game with 16 points and five rebounds while Hodde had 14 points, eight assists, three rebounds, and two steals.
“They were super aggressive, really focused,” Connaway said about Miller and Hodde. “I think they kind of had a chip on their shoulder, wanting to prove we can play in their (Canton’s) place and make a statement to everyone that Van-Far basketball is back and we’re going to try and make a little run here.”
McMorris tallied 15 points, seven rebounds, two steals, and two assists; Wilburn had seven points, four rebounds, and two assists; Verlyn Johnson scored two points; and Treyson Culwell had one rebound.
In the semifinals against a Louisiana team they were playing for the third time this season, the Indians relied on their defensive effort to beat the Bulldogs, 50-47.
“Tonight was a dog fight from the opening tip,” Connaway said. “We knew this game would be tough. Both teams know each other very well and it is very hard to beat a good team three times in one season, but tonight that is what we did.”
In a tight 20-19 game at halftime, the Indians came out firing in the third quarter as Christian, Wilburn, and Hodde hit 3-pointers in succession to get the offense going. In the fourth quarter, Van-Far shot 67% from the free throw line.
Wilburn forced Louisiana’s best player to take two tough shots down the stretch that led to Van-Far rebounds to help seal the game.
McMorris’ late steal put the Bulldogs away.
Hodde had 18 points; Wilburn scored 10; Miller added nine; McMorris scored seven points; and Christian had six points.
Knocking off Clopton
In the first round, the Indians faced a Clopton team they played just one week earlier.
Clopton jumped out to a 15-8 first quarter lead and held the momentum until McMorris put on a show.
He scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the second quarter to help the Indians put up 25 points before halftime for a 33-29 lead. In a tight ball game, Van-Far made 11-of-12 free throws in the fourth and were 20-of-24 in the game to seal a 68-57 win.
McMorris scored 28 points; Hodde and Miller each had 12; Wilburn scored six; Christian had five; Johnson had three; and Colin Wilburn scored two points.
Van-Far takes on Elsberry in the state sectionals at 7:45 p.m. in Hannibal on Wednesday, February 28 at Hannibal High School.
A win puts them in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 3 at 2:45 p.m. in Moberly Area C.C. with the winner of the Milan/Harrisburg sectional.