The Mark Twain boys basketball team couldn't build upon a strong first half Monday in a 65-62 home loss to Wright City.

Mark Twain boys basketball coach Cody McCann has been searching high and low for a solution that will help his team to play well in the third quarter this season.

Sluggish stretches of play out of the locker room have hurt the Tigers in three straight losses.

With a 33-26 halftime lead Monday night, McCann instructed his players to move sideline chairs in a circle around him and remain on the court for their meeting during the intermission.

“We've got to figure out how to come out after halftime, especially when we have the lead,” McCann said. “We were just trying something different. We can't come out of the locker room, so let's just try not to even go in the locker room.

“That's what we did, but we got the same result.”

After a putback by Grant Peters grew Mark Twain's lead to 37-27 with 7 minutes, 12 seconds left in the third quarter, visiting Wright City responded with a 16-3 run to take a 43-40 advantage into the fourth. 

Wright City fended off a late rally by the Tigers for a 65-62 victory in the Eastern Missouri Conference matchup.

Devon Holmes, who led the Wildcats (10-9, 3-3 EMO) with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, gave Wright City its first lead since the first quarter with a breakaway slam dunk that made it 40-39 with just over three minutes left in the third.

“The second half is the kind of ball we're used to playing,” Wright City coach David Evans said. “We like to get the ball moving pretty quick up and down the floor, and that way when we force turnovers, we can capitalize.”

Wright City proceeded to score the first eight points of the final period. Holmes connected for a 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 45 seconds left to put the visitors ahead 51-40. That proved to be the largest lead in the game for either team.

Mark Twain (8-11, 3-2) trailed by eight with 1:24 remaining but rallied back within two points in the final minute. Aidan Epperson scored from close range before Peters made two free throws followed by a putback to pull within 60-58 with 52.9 seconds left.

Wright City missed seven of 10 free-throw attempts in the final 38.3 seconds to give the hosts a chance.

“This team, they've got me on the edge,” Evans said of his Wildcats.

Preston Eckler made a three with 9.9 seconds remaining to cut Mark Twain's deficit to 64-62. The Tigers then fouled Holmes, and the senior made his first foul shot before missing the second.

Brayden McLeod corralled the rebound for Mark Twain and passed the ball ahead to Eckler, whose desperation 3-pointer from the corner was off the mark as time expired. 

Mark Twain appeared headed for its fourth EMO win with a strong second quarter.

Devin Neff, who finished with 10 points, knocked down back-to-back threes in the first 86 seconds of the period to jumpstart the Tigers offense. 

Conner Grossmann's putback basket with two seconds left in the first period ignited a streak of 11 unanswered points as the Tigers built a 28-19 lead with 3:13 left until halftime. 

Grossmann took a feed from Eckler for the final points of the second quarter, giving the Tigers a seven-point cushion at the break.

Grossmann was one of several Tiger reserves who saw significant action. Corbin Eckler (shoulder) and Kaden Elliott (knee) both missed the game due to injury, and the timetable for their return is unknown.

“He had to step up tonight,” McCann said of Grossmann. “Corbin and Kaden are both out for right now, so I challenged some of these other guys that they need to step up and make plays. I think Conner did that tonight.” 

McCann mentioned he was pleased with how his team stuck to its game plan over the first two quarters. 

Peters, who posted 18 points and 12 rebounds, scored eight of his points in the first half. Jace Barton added six before halftime and finished with 12 as the third Tiger in double figures.

“Our plan was to get the ball inside, move the ball well and attack the rim,” the Tigers coach said. “When we attack the rim, good things happen for us. That's what helped us in the second quarter — we attacked the rim, we executed and we took care of the ball.” 

Five players scored for Wright City in the third as it took control. David Liddell connected for the third of his game-high four 3-pointers during the pivotal period and finished with 16 points.

Cameron Cole (10) and JJ McRoberts (9) rounded of the Wildcats top scorers in the win. 

Mark Twain made just three of 12 shots from the field in the third and just one field goal in the final 7:12 of the period.

Mark Twain's third-quarter struggles came on the heels of blowing a 12-point halftime lead to Class 3 No. 3 Clark County on Friday. Last Tuesday, the Tigers were tied with Canton at the halfway point before losing by 18. 

McCann gave credit to Holmes and Wright City for making plays when it mattered most.

“Same story third game in a row,” McCann said. “The other team's best player comes out after halftime and kind of takes over. If we could figure out the third quarter, I think the outcome is different.”