CENTER, Mo. -- The Mark Twain boys basketball team showed they plan to be a much tougher team in this strange season of high school basketball than in previous seasons.
The Tigers finally hit the floor to start the 2020-21 season on Friday night, facing nemesis Community. The Trojans, coached by Matt Thomas, have a reputation as a tough, physical team that is willing to outmuscle opponents under the basket.
But the Tigers responded to first-year head coach Jared Akright’s challenge not to back down from anyone, taking an intensely physical game from Community, 48-37.
Both teams kept the three-man officiating crew busy, as the men in stripes called a total of 46 fouls, including an intentional foul against Community and more than a few tense moments for coaches.
Lakoda Preston led the Mark Twain attack in the first quarter, scoring six points, including two free throws, as the Tigers took off to an 11-7 lead after the first 8 minutes. In what was a trend for the game, Mark Twain went to the charity stripe eight times in the quarter. Both teams were in the bonus by the beginning of the second quarter.
Community fought back in the second quarter, knotting the game 22-22 after the first half. For Mark Twain, it was a balanced attack with four players contributing to the scoring. The Tigers went to the foul line six times during the quarter.
Mark Twain took control of the game in the third quarter, holding Community to five points while scoring 18 point with what was again a balanced attack with five players contributing to the scoring attack, including three-pointers form Jaxen Lake and Mason Fullenwider.
Although Community mounted a charge during a tense fourth quarter, holding the Tigers to a lone field goal, the Tigers held off the Trojans thanks to going 6-for-10 from the foul line.
“We have a lot of young kids and they have bought into to what we are coaching,” Akright said. “I told them that we cannot win games by just talent alone. We have good talent, but we do not have enough to in games on talent alone. We must give everything on defense and have intensity. They did that tonight.”
Akright said that he was encouraged that all his players contributed.
“Everybody who got in, man I was super proud of them,” he said, adding that with all the fouls, he told his team at halftime “that we are not changing anything we are doing. We will have people foul out. So be it.”
The Community Lady Trojans spent the first quarter of Mark Twain’s season opener on Friday night reminding observers why they went to the state Class 2 quarterfinals in in the last school year.
Community ran all over the young Lady Tigers in the first 8 minutes of the game, racing out to a 24-0 lead after the first quarter. It was total domination.
But Mark Twain coach Matt Boswell pulled his team together between quarters and told them to calm down and focus on fundamentals.
His players listened.
Anna Echternacht set the tone early in the quarter when she grabbed a ball beneath the basket and nailed a reverse layup, which sparked her teammates.
“Since I met Anna as a freshman and started coaching her when she was a sophomore, I knew she had the ability to play like that,” Boswell said. “We’ve been able to help her gain some more confidence, and she is starting to see how dominate she can be.”
For the next three quarters, Mark Twain took control of the game, outscoring Community 42-30 over the last three quarters, including holding the Lady Trojans to just 5 points in the third quarter.
Mark Twain lost 54-42, but Boswell said his team matured over the course of the game.
He said that his team responded well after spending nearly two weeks doing nothing but virtual practices as COVID-19 concerns forced classes online at the school, and the first two games of the season were cancelled.
“After only two practices, to start the game down 24-0 and lose by 10, that was great. We had great performances from both Anna and Audrey Ross coming off the bench,” Boswell said. “This can be a confidence builder.”