The Mark Twain boys basketball team pulled together late to defeat Van-Far JV 69-54 on Wednesday in the first round of the Madison Tournament.

Someone forgot to tell the Van-Far junior varsity players they were expected to be no match for the big and physical Mark Twain boys basketball team during the opening round of the Madison Tournament.

For three quarters, the Indians, playing more like a varsity squad, gave the more experienced Tigers fits before Mark Twain got on track in the fourth for a 69-54 win.

“That was not the way we want to start the tournament at all,” said a subdued Cody McCann, Mark Twain’s head coach. “We came out flat. We were not executing on offense or defense. We got a little bit of a lead on them, but then everyone wanted to do their own thing. But give them (Van-Far) credit, they played a heck of a game.”

Until that fourth quarter, it was a tight and hard-fought game.

After falling behind in the early minutes of the first quarter, 11-4, the Indians stormed back to move the game to 11-11. With an aggressive defense and solid shooting, the Indians took the game to the Tigers, even taking a brief 44-40 lead in the third.

The Indians played fierce, fearless defense, drained shots from the perimeter and got past a stubborn press defense.

Van Far junior Verlyn Johnson battled Mark Twain 6-foot-7 center Grant Peters with a night of body checking. Johnson even managed to block a Peters shot in the second quarter.

It was not the game Mark Twain expected.

At halftime, anyone going to the concession stand could hear McCann’s voice booming from the locker room.

“I told them if we had not taken the early lead, we would be behind now,” McCann said, adding that he emphasized execution of basics to his players.

Meanwhile, Van-Far head coach Brett Reading was all smiles. His team played hard and gave Mark Twain fits.

“I thought we came out cold but then we got better and played with more confidence,” he said. “We tried to play fast. They are way too big and strong. We played a really good second and third quarter but then just ran out of gas.”

The coach said that Johnson, who took year off playing basketball, has been getting better as the year has progressed.

“He has the potential to be a really good player for us,” Reading said. “He is a big strong and fast kid. He runs the 400 in 52 seconds. We came in to try to take control of Peters, but in the end, they just wore us down.”

Van-Far was hot from 3-point range, hitting seven 3-pointers.

Mark Twain took a 34-29 halftime lead but came out flat while Van-Far was playing aggressive ball. After getting behind 44-40, the Tigers went on an 8-point run to take a 48-44 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Then, in the fourth quarter, Peters took control of the game for the Tigers, grabbing six rebounds, rejecting shots and pushing home layups.

Peters paced Mark Twain with 22 points, while teammate Conner Grossmann was the only other player to score in double-digits with 10.

Both earned every shot.

“They were playing hard and they outplayed us in much of the game,” McCann said of Van-Far. “Hopefully, we learned from this. I told them someone needs to step up, and I told the seniors their time was running out. They need to want it as badly as I do.”

The Madison Tournament will resume on Jan. 3.