It would have been easy for the McDonald County boys to suffer a fourth quarter letdown against Neosho on Thursday at the Neosho Holiday Classic.
The Mustangs, after leading nearly the entire game, saw the Wildcats storm back and tie the game at 32 on a three-point play by Neosho’s Darrian Guillory at the end of the third quarter. Rather than suffering a letdown, however, the Mustangs instead regrouped with their best quarter of the game, a 22-point binge to close out a 54-45 victory over the Wildcats.
“We’ve got to start putting four quarters together,” Mustangs coach Trent Barratt said. “Right now we’re playing some games two, three quarters. When we start putting four quarters together of Mustang basketball we’ll start seeing some success.”
The Mustangs might not have put four solid quarters together, but the fourth quarter was solid enough in this one. With the game tied at 32 to start the fourth, the Mustangs’ senior leadership, particularly point guard Pablo Alvarez, shined.
Alvarez rattled off five-straight points to begin the fourth, but it was his defense that made the difference. Back-to-back Neosho turnovers produced the swing as Alvarez capped the run with a steal and a three-point play on the other end after being fouled on a layup attempt.
That gave the Mustangs a 37-32 lead and jump-started their big quarter.
“Pablo Alvarez has had two great games,” Barratt added. “He’s been a good point guard for us, and defensively he’s kept us in games. Tonight I felt like he changed the game with his defense.”
The Wildcats, however, continued to struggle with the things that have plagued them all season.
“It’s flashes,” Wildcats coach Jason Horn said. “It seems like we do it every game where we have one quarter where we’re solid, one where we’re pretty average and two where we just don’t execute at all. (We’ve) just got to execute, got to be strong with the ball and got to focus — know your assignment on defense. If you do that you’ll probably have some success.”
Horn said his Wildcats must take a tougher approach — citing McDonald County’s physical brand of basketball as the difference in the teams.
“Toughness is our problem,” Horn said. “Until we get physically tough with the teams we’re playing, play them a bit rougher, we’re not going to have success because we let people bully us out there.”
While Barratt said he wants to see more consistency from his team, he was pleased with the way they finished on Thursday.
Page 2 of 2 - “We’ve been talking about finishing all year,” he said. “For (our team) to come out and finish in this environment was a good thing.”
McDonald County spent a good portion of the second half without big man Drey Fickle, who came out in the third quarter due to foul trouble. The Wildcats quickly made it a game upon his exit, but Fickle’s teammates rallied before he came back in the fourth to score seven points.
“We don’t have a lot of experience coming off the bench,” Barratt said. “But these guys are starting to get a feel coming off the bench. We lost a lot of offense and defense last year through graduation.”
Fickle led the way for the Mustangs with 14 points while Alvarez finished with 13, Josh Serr 10, Tyrel Lett six, Tyler Sherwood four, Jake Wood four and Drew Harmon three.
Guillory led the Wildcats with 13 points followed by Brett Williams with seven, Caden Hendricks five, Kaden Roy three, Lukas Werneke two, Andy Lett three, Logan Stuart four and Preston Johnson eight.