Nevada Daily Mail
"This win says a great deal about our kids because we exhibited some mental toughness." A number of questions still remained head into Monday night's contest against the St. Mary's Colgan Panthers, but head coach John McNeley's Nevada Tigers basketball team put those questions to rest emphatically with a 65-53 victory.
"We could have folded the ship at times, but didn't, played through it," McNeley said.
When the Tigers put on performances like their last outing against Carthage when they appeared ragged and out of sorts in a number of ways, it's difficult not to bring up questions of toughness. Such questions couldn't be further from the minds of any fans who attended Monday night's game now, however, as the Tigers made what has always been a very competitive Panthers team look far worse than they are in reality.
The Tigers came into the night knowing exactly what to expect on both sides of the ball as Colgan's philosophy on both offense and defense has remained mostly consistent through the years. Knowing what to expect and facing, then ultimately beating it can be two entirely different things, however, as the Tigers learned the hard way as the game began.
Throughout the first half, it looked as though Colgan would be able to dictate the tempo and outlast the Tigers simply through tenacity and a fast-paced offense. The Tigers tried to keep up the pace, but couldn't quite make it on a number of occasions, resulting in good possessions and open looks at the basket turning into missed shots, rather than points.
Colgan couldn't capitalize, however, as the turnover bug reared its ugly head a total of 14 times for the Panthers to nine for Nevada. By the time all was said and done, the Panthers held a 27-25 halftime lead.
"We were a little ragged in the first half," McNeley said. "Got winded, kids had to play extended minutes and I didn't know what we would get in the second half."
That "ragged" first half didn't just show up in the Tigers' actions, but it showed up in the first-half stats as well. Nevada finished the half making just seven of its 22 field goals, while Colgan hit 12 of 21.
"We got tired. We had some good possessions early on in the ballgame and we did some good things," McNeley said. "Then, we went through a stretch where we really struggled."
That all changed in the second half, however, as the Tigers fought their way back and ultimately took control of the game. In stark contrast to the opening 16 minutes of the contest, the Tigers shot 50 percent from the floor in the third and fourth quarters and shut the Panthers down almost completely.
"I thought we really did a nice job in the second half when it wasn't easy," McNeley said. "I mean, we had our energy sucked out of us early, but we played through it and really did some nice things in the second half."
In the second half, the Tigers were not only able to pick things up considerably on the offensive end, but McNeley's squad held the Panthers to just 35 percent field-goal shooting.
That didn't come easy, however, as the Tigers were forced to fight through the most physical game they have seen this season. By the time the game came to an end, each team had been called for more than 20 total fouls and some of the contact still went uncalled.
"I thought our kids, for the most part, played through some of that," McNeley said of the physical nature of Tuesday's contest. "This is a team that can tolerate some physicality."
As he has done all season long, Silas Smith led the offense for the Tigers with 24 points. He wasn't the overwhelming leader this time, however, as Jamin Brandt put up 20 of his own.
"He was active," McNeley said of the 6-foot-2-inch Brandt. "And, you know, when he's active and utilizes that athleticism, he can produce some easy points."
The strong performances of Brandt and Smith came right when the Tigers needed them and McNeley's squad took full advantage, ultimately taking the game by a final score of 65-53.
Austin Commons led the offensive effort in the contest for Colgan as he finished the night with 20 points. Commons was joined in double figures by Dyson Dechant, who added 13 of his own.
Neither team really gained much of an advantage on the free-throw line, which hasn't been the case every time the Tigers have taken the floor this season. Nevada finished 21-for-26 from the charity stripe, while Colgan was 9-for-11.
With the win, the Tigers evened their season record at 5-5 and will be back in action on Friday, Jan. 11, when they head back out on the road to take on McDonald County.
"I like the win. I think it ranks right up there with the better wins that we've had probably over the course of a couple seasons because again, it wasn't based on execution," McNeley said. "It was based on toughness."