De Soto presses Chieftains for big victory
Even the players on the De Soto boys basketball team seemed to have a hard time deciding just how good of a team they were a part of.
Early in Friday's game against Atchison, the Cats played well against a tough opponent.
Midway through the game, De Soto was mired in an ugly hole, trailing by seemingly insurmountable margins late into the second half.
Finally, in the game's final seconds, the Cats caught back up, only a wave of Redmen free throws finally sealing De Soto's fate.
The Wildcats were much more sure of their own identity by Tuesday. Four days after a disappointing 52-45 home loss to Atchison, De Soto roared back to knock off Tonganoxie on the road 53-44 for its second win of the season.
A vicious press, tenacious rebounding and a breakthrough game for junior Jamell Townsend helped the Cats forget their two-faced game against Atchison.
"It's big to even up a little bit. We felt like Atchison kind of got away from us. We were right there, but it was that darn bounce of the ball," De Soto coach Jim Bonar said. "We felt like that slipped away. Take it for what it's worth we lost the game, but we got some good things out of it."
It was intensity that killed the Chieftains Tuesday in Tonganoxie. De Soto forced the action and jumped to a fat first-quarter lead. Townsend, playing in his first season as a Wildcat, scored three of De Soto's first four baskets, cleaning up the offensive glass and helping the team to a 10-2 lead.
He finished with 19 points to lead all scorers.
Picking off passes and pressuring Tongie into multiple turnovers, the Cats extended their lead. The Chieftains briefly rallied early in the second quarter, but De Soto adjusted and laid the heat on again.
"That was our plan," Bonar said. "I've been disappointed in our defense in general, but the intensity was there. They started to handle our man press, so we switched up to a zone press and that got us right back up, putting points on the board and causing turnovers."
Andre Linzy, who finished second on the team with 14 points, banked in a 3-pointer to kick-start the scoring in the second quarter, then hit another moments later. He fed fellow senior Erik Hill for a bucket on a fast break, then missed with a short jumper that had the chance to make it a double-digit lead.
Townsend didn't let the opportunity go to waste, however. He grabbed Linzy's rebound and put it back, then went on to miss two more times before finally finding the basket and a 19-9 lead.
Linzy scored after a pass from Townsend late in the quarter as De Soto took a 32-21 lead into halftime.
"That's another emphasis. We're trying to get the ball inside more," Bonar said of Townsend's big day. "In the first three games we launched a lot of 3s, taking a lot of outside shots and we felt like we needed to get Erik and Jamell more involved in the offense."
The Chieftains rallied one final time in the third quarter, pulling to within seven points - 32-25 - after a basket by Gabe Belobrajdic. A pair of De Soto sophomores, Brandan Philbrook and Dylan Burford slammed the door with back-to-back 3-pointers.
"Brandan Philbrook impressed me today," Bonar said. "Dylan also did a great job on defense. He forced a couple turnovers, had a couple steals and a five second call, too."
Twice the 3-ball helped stifle Tonganoxie attacks - Linzy's pair in the second quarter and Philbrook and Burford's in the third. It was De Soto's ability to turn away from the tempting long bomb that helped it win the game, however.
Six games into the season and De Soto still isn't clicking on all cylinders - namely, it hasn't shot well yet, especially from beyond the arc.
Its two 3-ball specialists from last year came up empty Tuesday and struggled nearly as much Friday.
"We're trying to hang our hat on rebounding and defense. We have some struggling guys on offense, so we have to keep teams under 40 points if we want to have a chance, and we did that," Bonar said. "(The shooting is) just not clicking yet. They'll get it on. I have no doubt. Every time they throw it up, I think it's going in. But right now, we're trying to get it together and hold people down in points."
The Cats needed more than just sharper shooting against Atchison. Just getting the ball down the court was an epic struggle through parts of the game.
Brendan Hudson hit a 3-point shot to give De Soto a 4-2 lead and Hill scored to make it 8-3 in the early going. A relentless press did to the Cats what the Cats would do to Tongie, however - panicked passes were picked off, dribbles and movements became hurried and sloppy and shots were rare and off target.
After building a five-point lead, De Soto scored only one more point in the first quarter while Atchison marched to a 15-9 advantage. Townsend and Travis Crow scored to pull De Soto within four, but turnovers on five consecutive possessions helped the Redmen to a 25-13 lead.
The Cats closed the gap in the third quarter, pulling to within six on a Linzy basket, but turnovers on six consecutive possessions put Atchison back up big, this time 44-23.
A steady defense and a pair of 3-balls from junior Tommy Elmer helped De Soto pull within five with a minute remaining, but the Cats couldn't come within one possession and lost for the fourth time on the season.
"We're streaky. Tommy stepped up and hit a couple big 3s at the end of the fourth quarter to make it a lot closer. It was one of those things where we were relying on one guy too much," Bonar said. "Sometimes things click and sometimes they don't."
De Soto will try to keep Friday's memories repressed and carry Tuesday's Tongie momentum into a showdown against Anderson County, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday night in Garnett.
De Soto lost to the Bulldogs late last spring at the end of a dismal three-win season, though the Cats aren't having many problems burying the past. They lost twice to Tonganoxie last year and know the opportunity against Anderson County is big for many reasons.
Not only would a win help warm hearts during a two-week winter break, it could also factor into a guaranteed-to-be-tight sub-state seeding race.
"It's already time to be thinking about that," Bonar said. "It's important just to end on a good note. We definitely want to go down there and put on a good show.
"They're a very guard oriented team - they like to cut and shoot so it should be a good game."