Nevada Daily Mail
CARTHAGE, Mo. -- The Nevada Tigers varsity boys' basketball squad got its season under way Tuesday night in the opening round of the Carthage Invitational basketball tournament at Carthage High School.
The Tigers opened the tournament against a familiar opponent in the Heritage High School War Eagles. The two squads had at least a little bit of familiarity with one another thanks to the meeting between them in the third place game of last year's Carthage Invitational.
In that game, the Tigers came out on top of what ultimately turned out to be a close contest by a final score of 66-62. The story was much the same Tuesday night as the Tigers found themselves in another close contest in which they ultimately fell just short by a final score of 61-59.
"I wish we would have played better," Tigers head coach John McNeley said. "I don't think we played like we're capable of, but I think you can attribute a lot of that to first game."
McNeley's Tigers were scheduled to be in action last Tuesday against Monett, but due to the Cubs not being able to have a team ready to play since most of head coach Ty Goetz's players also play football for the Cubs squad that reached the semifinals in the Class 3 State Tournament, that game was moved to Dec. 20, leaving the Tigers with no games before the Carthage Invitational. McNeley wasn't unhappy about that, however, as it gave his squad more time to practice for what he called a "very competitive" tournament.
"You've got some real quality teams in Carl Junction, Joplin, I think Heritage has a nice team, they've got four starters back," McNeley said last week. "Then you've got teams that can be competitive, teams that are good enough to be competitive right on through."
The Tigers entered the tournament as the sixth seed out of eight teams, but McNeley said that low seed didn't surprise him.
"I told our kids when we went down there, we could be anywhere from three to six," McNeley said. "I didn't think we'd be lower than six, I didn't see us being higher than three because, I think, Carl Junction and Joplin, from a talent standpoint, are a little bit better than the rest of the field. And that was kind of reflected in the seeding."
Despite coming into the tournament right where McNeley expected them to be against a familiar opponent, however, the Tigers struggled throughout a significant portion of Tuesday's contest. Long scoring droughts at key points in the contest coupled with foul troubles right from the start of the game put the Tigers in a hole that simply proved to deep to escape.
"We've got to do a better job. If you look at the ballgame, I think there's two factors. One is the easy points they produced," McNeley said. "We did not make them work to produce a great share of their points. And their toughness in terms of guarding us bothered us."
The biggest of those problems in the opening half proved to be foul trouble as the Tigers were able to stay right with Heritage through most of the first two quarters. Questionable calls from the officiating crew that McNeley said appeared to be guesses on a few occasions gave Heritage a distinct advantage and the War Eagles wasted little time making that edge count as they worked their way to a 29-20 halftime lead.
The guessing game that led to the Tigers being called for 12 fouls in the first half to just six for Heritage continued right on into the second half, ultimately resulting in not only the Tigers having to dig their way out of a 10-point hole in the final 4 minutes of the contest, but also in Nathan Colopy and Jamin Brandt fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
"I thought they did fine," McNeley said of the game officials. "I thought they guessed a couple of times, but, you know, that's going to happen. ... The thing that I'm really going to fight for is I can't have Jamin and Nate in foul trouble."
Despite fouling out of the game with 1:44 left, Colopy still finished in double figures with 14 points. That total was just half of that of last year's leading scorer, Silas Smith, however, who led all scorers with 28 points on the night.
As a team, the Tigers shot well from the free-throw line, finishing 15-for-18, while Heritage made just 14 of 23 foul shots. Connor Hirsh led a group of four War Eagles in double figures with 14 points, followed by Xavier Thomas with 12 and Wyatt Kinnamon and Luke Fryauf with 10 apiece.
With the loss, the Tigers opened the season with a record of 0-1 and will head back to Carthage on Thursday to take on the Bulldogs of Springfield Central, who lost to Joplin Tuesday night by a final score of 64-51. Tipoff for that contest is set for 7:30 p.m.
See Page 9 for Harrisonville JV results.