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By: Corey Stott
EWING, Mo.- (1/5/21-1/7/21)- Coach Jeremy Austin’s Scotland County Tigers (4-5) knew they had a tough road ahead coming into the 2021 Highland Tournament. They were the #8 seed and would open play against the top-seeded Palmyra Panthers (5-4). And regardless if they won or lost, they would be facing either a #4 or #5 seed for their second game. The path forward proved to be every bit as tough as the Tigers expected. And while the results were not what they wanted, this Tiger team showed some very promising signs of growth and improvement.
Scotland County opened tournament play on Tuesday night with a 65-24 loss to Palmyra. Scotland controlled the opening tip, but Palmyra quickly stole the ball and scored in transition. That play set the tone for the game, as a very athletic and physical Panther team jumped out to an early 5-0 lead within the first two minutes of the game. They never looked back.
“They’re a one seed for a reason,” Austin said. “They’re pretty good. They execute well, they’re big and they hit a lot of their shots. It was a tough first draw for us.”
The Panthers outscored the Tigers 18-4 in the first quarter. Palmyra again outscored Scotland County 19-6 in the second quarter. As the two teams headed to the halftime locker room, Palmyra was firmly in control 37-10.
The Panthers kept their foot on the gas to start the third period, and outscored Scotland County 20- 12 to build a 57-22 lead after three quarters. With a running clock in the fourth quarter, both teams played their reserves and Panthers won by a final score of 65-24.
Palmyra’s Aaron Stamper led all scorers with 23 points. Abe Haerr added 13 points to the tally. Owen Triplett led the Tigers with eight points.
Austin said that while the score was not where he wanted it to be, he did feel like it was a learning opportunity for his squad. “Our execution wasn’t very effective, but I think the lesson was learned in understanding what needs to happen. The key to the game at the high school level is you have to be more than a participant in the game. You have to be a student of the game. You need to understand why things are happening.”
He further explained, “We discussed why they beat us. What can we do differently? What were the things that we didn’t do as well as they did, and how can we improve upon that?” He said the biggest lesson his team took from the game was that “we need to have the sense of urgency and the intensity necessary to compete with these really good teams.”
The Tigers next faced #5 seeded Knox County (6-3) in a consolation semi-final on Thursday night. It was a back-and-forth, very physical game, and very competitive. But in the end, the Eagles edged out the Tigers for a 67-58 victory.
The Tigers controlled the opening tip and built an 8-5 lead when Corbyn Spurgeon buried a 3-pointer at the 4:40 mark in the first quarter. Knox quickly answered and took the lead 9-8 at the 2:57 mark. Both teams continued to trade the lead, and after one quarter, Scotland County led 15-14.
Conner Hayes stole the ball and scored the transition lay-in to start the second period, and Knox had the lead 16-15. Both teams continued to trade leads until halftime, when the Eagles took a 30-26 lead to the locker room.
“I thought we competed pretty well,” Austin said. “There were a few mental mistakes in the first half that resulted in easy baskets for them. We did a good job of getting to the rim and knocking down a few shots.”
Scotland County matched Knox County with 18 points apiece in the third quarter, and the Eagles led 48-44 at the end of the period. Corbyn Spurgeon buried a 3-pointer to open the final quarter and it was 48-47 Knox County. That was the closest the Tigers would come and after being outscored 19-14 in the period, the Tigers were defeated 67-58.
Carson Harrison led all scorers with 20 points. Spurgeon scored 13 and Triplett contributed 12 points. Hayes led the Eagles with 18 points. Rylan Roberts scored 13 and Nelson Shinkle scored 12.
Knox County’s ability to control the glass gave them the edge they needed. “Offensive boards are always an issue, especially when you have to face a pair of bookends that are 6’6”,” Austin said. “We made similar mistakes in the second half that we did in the first half, things that we know better. But until we get in games like this that are close where they’ve actually got to play ball and execute under pressure, that’s something that’s difficult to replicate (in practice). So these kinds of games are good for us. This was a good ballgame overall for us and something that we can build on.”
The Tigers bowed out of the tournament after the loss to Knox County. The Eagles went on to earn the consolation trophy on Friday night. The Tigers will be in action Tuesday night on the road at Westran, and on Friday night at home versus Salisbury. Both games are conference matchups.