Nevada Daily Mail
"I don't deserve to hold it." Many people would strongly disagree that after a performance like the one the Nevada Tigers varsity basketball team put forth Saturday to win the 88th annual Clinton Basketball Tournament that the head coach doesn't deserve to be the one to hold the trophy, but while posing for a team photo in front of parents and fans, that's exactly what Tigers head coach John McNeley believed.
McNeley's opportunity to hoist the trophy came after the Tigers capped off what he called a "solid" tournament, beating the top-seeded Knob Noster Panthers by a final score of 61-53. "I'm really, really pleased with the approach that we're taking and that approach has led to a pretty good level of basketball," McNeley said.
The Tigers came into the contest with momentum on their side after two strong games in which they trounced the Bulldogs of El Dorado Springs, 75-22, in the opening round and took down Sherwood by a final score of 68-45 in the tournament semifinals. Knob Noster punched its ticket with victories over the Warrensburg JV and Van Horn.
"We knew we'd have our hands full today. We watched them earlier in the week and had some information on them," McNeley said. "I think they were 15-4, something like that, coming in, so it's a quality basketball team."
As the contest began, it was clear from the start that fans wouldn't be disappointed. Despite the face that the Tigers were at a distinct size disadvantage, they had little trouble coming out on top of a number of exchanges, taking a 19-14 lead into the second period.
The most imposing player on the court was Knob Noster's David Barton. The 6-foot-8-inch junior provided a unique challenge for the Tigers as he is one of the few true post players in the Missouri high school game.
We really, more so than at any other point in time this year, played a true post," McNeley said. "You just don't see many true post players like Barton is at the high school level.
"We had to put more emphasis in not letting him touch it. Now, it worked to our advantage that we got him in foul trouble and he spent a lot of time on the bench."
The strong effort the Tigers put forth in neutralizing the unique talents Barton brought to the table didn't have all positive results, however. As many coaches often say, to make one thing work, a team must often sacrifice another and that's exactly what happened as the focus on Barton allowed the rest of the Knob Noster roster to get open looks and offensive rebounds far more often than McNeley would ordinarily like to see.
"Because we were really emphasizing getting backside help, they probably got some better looks at the basket at times than what we would like to have," he said. "When you're playing a quality opponent, you have to take that into consideration because they're going to get some things done."
That showed on the scoreboard by the end of the half as the Panthers took 30-30 tie into the locker room, despite an 18-point opening half for Silas Smith. The Panthers did a better job in the second half of neutralizing Smith's shot-making abilities, but he was still able to put up 10 more points in the final 16 minutes to finish the night with 28 to lead all scorers.
He was joined in double figures by Nathan Colopy, who followed up the career-high 23 points he scored earlier in the tournament with a 16-point performance in Saturday's contest. Both Smith and Colopy were named to the All-Tournament team.
Knob Noster's efforts to shut down Smith's scoring was what really started to open things up for Colopy and the rest of the Tigers in the second half, but the Panthers were still able to take a 43-40 lead into the final 8 minutes of the contest. But a 23-point onslaught in the fourth quarter proved to be simply too much for the Panthers to handle and the Tigers picked up the victory by a final score of 63-51.
"We played really solid and continue to play at a really good level," McNeley said. "We've put several ball games in a row now that we feel like we're playing the best basketball that we've played."
With the victory, the Tigers not only captured the tournament title, but also gave their head coach plenty of reasons to smile. McNeley said not only the way his squad has played of late, but also the attitude his players have shown have left him "just tickled."
"When you bring it each and every day and you enjoy competing with your team, then that's when high school athletics is at its best," he said.