SPRINGFIELD – After a late-night performance he would like to forget, Branson boys’ basketball coach Mike Linehan saw plenty to like in Wednesday’s consolation round of the Blue Division at the Blue and Gold Tournament.
Not much came easy for the Pirates in a 70-48 loss to third-seeded Strafford in the 9:30 p.m. game on Tuesday night at Hammons Student Center.
Linehan attributed much of that to the 14-day break his team has had since its last game.
He gave his players four days off, but even after returning for practice, there were players in and out of practice and traveling with their families out of the area.
“We were rusty,” Linehan said. “We were just very sloppy.”
The Pirates knocked a lot of that rust off in a 58-39 victory over Ava in Wednesday’s consolation round, a game where the Pirates scored the game’s first eight points, never trailed and were never threatened.
“We talked about some things and ran through some things this morning, and the kids responded very well,” Linehan said. “I thought tonight we were patient. Last night we didn’t run our stuff. Today we did.”
Junior guard Trey Benard helped that run with a 3-pointer, and D’Shawn Craigg added a trey of his own, then a floater in the lane as the first-quarter clock expired.
Benard added three more 3-pointers in the second quarter as Branson opened an 18-point lead before settling for a 34-23 advantage at the half.
Another Benard trey, then a feed from Benard to Michael Allison for an easy finish at the rim, made it a 47-25 lead. The final quarter was essentially mop-up time, as Linehan was able to empty his bench.
Benard scored 16 first-half points and finished with a game-high 20, with Zach Johnston adding 11 points, Nick Pead scoring nine and Allison eight.
That offensive balance and execution, as well as Branson’s full-court pressure defense leading to deflections and turnovers, left Linehan with a much better outlook after the tournament’s second day.
“That makes us look so much better when we are running our offense, and then guys are knocking down some shots,” he said.
STRAFFORD 70, BRANSON 48
Benard helped keep the Pirates close early on against the Indians on Tuesday, scoring six points in the final 1:21 of the first quarter, on three drives to the basket. Strafford led 13-10 after one quarter, then turned up the heat with a game-deciding run early in the second.
The Indians scored 10 of the first 13 points in the second quarter to take a 23-11 lead. A pair of layups from Gabe Sylvester stopped the bleeding and cut the deficit to 10, but a mid-range jumper by Riley Oberbeck gave Strafford a 31-17 halftime lead.
“They did a better job of taking care of the basketball, they did a better job of getting good shots, running their stuff,” Linehan said. ”I felt like we rushed a lot of our stuff, we rushed some shots.
“We have to do a better job of running our offense. When we run it, we can get some easy buckets. But tonight, we chucked it up too quick.”
The second half was all Strafford, and all Oberbeck.
The 6-foot-2 junior finished with a game-high 24 points, and had a stretch midway through the third quarter where he had a breakaway dunk, a 3-pointer and a putback of an offensive rebound.
The Strafford lead was 52-30 after three quarters, and another Oberbeck dunk in the fourth quarter made it a 65-43 lead.
Benard had 12 points to lead the Pirates.