By SEAN McCARRELL
(BUFFALO, Mo., digitalBURG) – The Warrensburg Tigers used a 10-2 run to close out a hard-fought 56-45 victory over the Rolla Bulldogs Friday night to advance to the Buffalo Tournament championship game.
The Tigers, who were undersized in the frontcourt, relied on their guard play in the first half, which was superb. The Tigers, lead by fast-scoring Dakota Jones, jumped out to an early lead.
“We’re going to see junk defenses tonight,” Tigers head coach Chris Nimmo said before the game. “And we’re going to have to be ready for that.”
Ready they were, as the Tigers were consistently able to knock down open looks, leading 18-11 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was much more of a seesaw battle between the Bulldogs and Tigers. Rolla’s defense was able to stymie the Tigers’ offense, as they switched between varying zone defenses for much of the period.
The Bulldogs hit key three pointers, and had Warrensburg on its heels late in the frame, but the Tigers held onto a 24-22 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the Tigers’ shooting picked up, with big three pointers converted by Jones and Kye Denker. However, Rolla refused to surrender, as it continued to play well defensively, and made shots in key situations.
When the horn sounded signifying the end of the third quarter, the Tigers clung to a one-point lead, 35-34, after being outscored in the second consecutive period.
“We had trouble making shots for a stretch,” Nimmo said. “But we played well on defense, and were able to score when we had to.”
In the fourth quarter, the nip-and-tuck game stayed true to form. Warrensburg was able to force Rolla to turn the ball over in key situations down the stretch, and made the Bulldogs play catch up for the whole frame.
With less than three minutes to play, Rolla’s Caleb Copeland hit a three pointer that pulled the Bulldogs to within three at 46-43. However, the Tigers were able to maintain possession for a lengthy stretch, forcing Rolla to foul intentionally in an effort to regain control of the ball.
Once the Bulldogs began to put the Tigers on the free-throw line, the Tigers put the game out of reach. Dakota Jones and Kye Denker each sank critical free throws in the final two minutes that iced the game for Warrensburg, and extended its lead to 11.
Warrensburg finished the contest on a 10-2 run, and won the game 56-45.
“We were able to make free throws down the stretch, and that was big for us,” Nimmo said.
With the win, the Tigers improve to 2-0 on the young season, and earn a berth in the championship game of the Buffalo Tournament against Bolivar. The Tigers and Liberators will do battle on the hardwood Saturday night from Buffalo beginning at 5 p.m., which will conclude a span in which the Tigers play two games in 24 hours.