Nevada Daily Mail
"Really solid ballgame for our kids and a good start. I think that set the tone for the rest of the ballgame."
The Nevada Tigers and head coach John McNeley have made a strong case in recent games for a top seed in the upcoming district tournament and that continued Friday night with a dominant performance against a far larger Lamar Tigers team. McNeley's Tigers used one of their strongest quarters of the season to work their way to a double-digit lead early and never looked back on the way to a 73-60 win.
"We knew we were going to have to combat their size and did a good job of it in the first half," McNeley said. "In the second half, they made some changes and tweaked things a little bit, spaced us out and got the ball inside and scored some easy points."
The two squads came into the night with a substantial measure of familiarity with one another, not only due to the fact that Nevada has clashed with Lamar for years, but because Lamar Tigers head coach Joel Braden played under McNeley in high school before graduating in the Class of 1995.
"Coach Braden played for me and was one of the most dedicated and committed players we've ever had," McNeley said. "He's going to instill the right things in his kids on and off the basketball floor."
That familiarity didn't matter for Braden's squad as they did everything right, but still couldn't seem to match up with the Tigers on either end of the floor.
The biggest reason for that, however, is the most recent player to challenge for a spot in the 1,000-point club, Silas Smith. Smith entered the contest with 921 career points and despite an obvious emphasis on shutting him down by the Lamar offense, he finished the night with 36 points -- 21 in the second half -- tying his season and career high.
"Silas was tremendous.," McNeley said. "This was probably him at his finest tonight."
Smith finished the night shooting nearly 70 percent from the field and was a perfect 11-for-11 from the free-throw line, lifting the Tigers to the 13-point win in one of the best games he has played in his career. That performance left him just 43 points short of 1,000 for his career with six games left in the regular season.
"It's really nice to see him having the stretch of games that he's had because not only are we getting attention from playing a good brand of basketball, but it's also drawing some attention his way," McNeley said. "He's too good a player to not get looked at and not have multiple choices to play at the next level."
Smith was joined in double figures by Nathan Colopy, who finished with 12 of his own and Jamin Brandt, who added 10.
Smith wasn't the only one to shoot a lot of free throws, either. As a team, the Tigers finished the night with 33 attempts from the stripe -- just eight short of their team total of 41 field-goal attempts.
"If you look at their team, watch them play very long and then, you look at their stats, which we had access to their stats, they foul," McNeley said. "And they foul a lot.
"It's an avenue to produce points and it's something that you sure hope you can take advantage of. When a team can make free throws, it's such an advantage."
Taking advantage of that avenue is exactly what the Tigers did. Of the 33 attempts it had at the charity stripe, McNeley's squad made 27.
It was a good night from the field for the Tigers as well, as they made 21 of their 41 field-goal attempts, or 51 percent. Lamar, on the other hand, was held to just 8-for-17 from the free-throw line and shot 52 percent from the field.
Ben Bailey led the offense for the visitors as he finished with 21 points. Bailey was joined in double figures by Josh Garfield with 12 and Sam Bailey with 11.
With the win, McNeley's Tigers improved to 13-5 on the year and will face another tough challenge when they return to the court on Tuesday, Feb. 5. That challenge comes in the form of the Mountaineers of Mount Vernon High School.
"We've got a tough, tough ballgame coming up on Tuesday," McNeley said.
After that game, the Tigers round out the regular-season home schedule with Courtwarming on Feb. 8, against the Mustangs of McDonald County High School and the season finale on Feb. 22, against Kansas City Northeast Law and Public Service.