The Mark Twain boys basketball team won a hard-hitting, low-scoring Eastern Missouri Conference game 42-37 at Wellsville on Friday.
Wellsville-Middleton’s strategy during Friday night’s home game against a bigger and faster Mark Twain boys basketball team was clear from the tipoff: play a smothering defense and a frustrating, deliberate offense.
The goal was simple. Take the swift-moving Tigers out of sync.
It almost worked for the upset in Eastern Missouri Conference play.
Mark Twain (8-6, 3-1 EMO) held in a hard-hitting, low-scoring affair, 42-37.
“They played us well,” said a relieved Mark Twain coach Cody McCann. “It was frustrating. It was tough for us to get into the rhythm we like. Offensively, they are very patient, looking for the right shot.”
Wellsville (4-10, 0-5) got off to a quick 7-2 lead halfway through the first quarter.
The Tigers took some time to adjust to the slow pace.
Wellsville worked to take the post and Mark Twain’s 6-foot-7 center Grant Peters out of the game.
Wellsville’s Tyler Bunch, a stout 6-foot-2 senior, played Peters body-to-body, with each shoving the other around. On offense, Wellsville passed the ball five and six times, looking for an open shot.
Mark Twain, thank to solid baskets by Aidan Epperson, fought back to even, but was trailing 11-10 as the first-quarter buzzer sounded.
The second quarter started just as slowly as the first. The first points were scored with 6:30 left the half, when Bunch sank two free throws.
Then, Peters came alive. He made a forceful layup and was fouled. With the converted free-throw shot, Mark Twain was up 14-11. Peters put Mark Twain up 19-13 before Bunch pushed down court to score a couple of baskets.
At halftime, the game was tied at 21.
“I am so proud of these guys,” said Wellsville coach Steve Lasman. “That team scored 70 points last week, and we held them to 42 points. Our guys answered the challenge.”
Lasman said that his team targeted Peters and the strong post game of Mark Twain. His team was effective in slowing Grant in the first half, though a fall that hurt his back compounded issues.
“We knew the only chance we had was to control Peters. He is a big guy and a very good player,” Lasman said. “We work on defense an hour and a half a day, so I was not surprised with what these guys did. We played well, but we just could not close it out. That has hurt us in a few games this year.”
The second half was equally slow.
Both teams traded missed shots and tough defensive plays until halfway through the third quarter when Ben Burton scored a bucket to put Wellsville up 23-21. Then, Peters and Epperson combined to make three baskets but only matched Wellsville, which held the normally high-flying Tigers to seven points in the period.
Entering the fourth quarter, the score was 28-25, Mark Twain.
Mark Twain’s offense took off in the fourth, doubling the third-quarter output. Peters and Epperson paced Mark Twain in the final period, leading the Tigers to a 36-31 lead with two minutes left in the game, eventually outdistancing Wellsville for the win.
“We had the size advantage, but we struggled to get the ball in early and they did a great job of putting their hands up and blocking us. We missed a few easy buckets early but we adjusted,” McCann said, adding it was not a “pretty win, but it was a win.”
Peters finished with 18 points, while Epperson scored 13.
Mark Twain is back on the court against Monroe City at 9 p.m. on Tuesday in the opening round of the Lenzini Tournament at Palmyra.