VAN-FAR ROUNDUP: Boys, girls lose to undefeated Montgomery County

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 2/4/23

Indians' confidence grows, falls short 71-65 vs Montgomery County

The Van-Far boys have grown accustomed to the nailbiter.

The Indians erased a 21-point deficit in the second half Tuesday at …

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VAN-FAR ROUNDUP: Boys, girls lose to undefeated Montgomery County


Indians' confidence grows, falls short 71-65 vs Montgomery County

The Van-Far boys have grown accustomed to the nailbiter.

Indians vs Montgomery County Photo Gallery

The Indians erased a 21-point deficit in the second half Tuesday at home against Eastern Missouri Conference leader Montgomery County but lost 71-65, making the contest their 12th decided by six points or fewer. Eight of those games have occurred in their previous 10 games, starting with a 50-49 home loss to another top conference team Elsberry on Jan. 9.

The Wildcats sank 7-of-9 free throws in the fourth quarter to stave off Van-Far’s frenetic comeback that saw them tie the game at 58 with 3:48 left in the game, following a pair of free throws by Pacey Reading. 

Head coach Pat Connaway said he liked how his players didn’t give up even after trailing 35-20 at halftime and 52-40 after the third quarter. Once the shots started falling for Van-Far (10-10, 2-4 EMO), he said the confidence grew in each of them.

“When shots fell, we started picking up our defense,” Connaway said. “Unfortunately, we’ve got to play better defense when we can’t score. We were shooting with confidence.”

Nikos Connaway scored most of his team-high 23 points in the second half — as he finished the first half with four points — and had eight rebounds and six assists. Reading followed with 11 points and three 3-pointers, Cody Smith, who has been in the starting lineup while Brayden Lay has dealt with a knee injury, finished with nine points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Carter Jennings had seven points.

The Indians erupted with a 9-0 run in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter. Connaway nailed a 3-pointer to cut Montgomery’s lead to single digits for the first time since the first quarter and then Smith quickly stole the ball before muscling in a 3-point play. Jennings hit a 3-pointer two minutes later for the 58-56 Montgomery lead.

“We want to have a shot in the fourth quarter,” Connaway said. “We’re used to being in close games. When we battled back to 12, in the first two or three minutes, let’s get it to six. We’re able to do that then we got it to four then two, Pacey hit free throws to tie, but they’ve got to be able to execute better. Bad turnover, missed free throw and then they scored again.”

Pat Connaway said Van-Far’s last ditch effort was an attempted 3-pointer by Jennings while down six points with about 30 seconds left, but Montgomery’s 6-foot-7 giant Clayton Parker beared down on him prior to it missing. Connaway said Parker usually affects many parts of the game with his size as the Indians didn’t have an answer for him.

Parker led the Wildcats (14-6, 6-0 EMO) with 28 points, 11 rebounds, two 3-pointers and a block. Tyler Erwin was the first of their other three double-digit scorers as Isaiah Thomas finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three steals, and Jay Rodgers had 11 points.

“They’re good. If not best team in the conference, they’re definitely top tier,” Connaway said. “Parker’s a load, but we got it to where they were at least not running their offense as much as trying to force feed him. When he was down low, we were helping off a kid trying to double him as much as we could. We knew once Clayton caught it at four feet, it’s pretty much over.”

Montgomery definitely relied on Parker mostly inside but one of his shots from outside is what pushed the Van-Far deficit to 21 points in the third quarter. 

In the second half, Parker continued to be a problem but so were the Indians as they distributed the ball all over the floor, with Connaway and Smith facilitating most of the scoring opportunities. Van-Far finished with seven 3-pointers, hitting five in the second half and four in the fourth quarter.

“You’re not always going to score against 6-7,” Pat Connaway said. “You’ve got to kick to shooters. We did a good job finding, kicking and hitting shots.”

In the second half, Connaway said the Indians were able generate more offense from tips and deflections and were able to run in transition after the Wildcats did most of the running in the first half.

“In the first haf, our full court wasn’t very good,” Connaway said. “We didn’t turn them over hardly at all and didn’t speed them up much. What Gage (Gibson) did in the mid-fourth (quarter), against their point guard (Thomas), he pulls it up, sprints ahead, makes him break down and change direction. That’s what we want to do instead of just letting them put their head down and go.”

Van-Far played another conference game at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mark Twain (12-8, 3-2 EMO), defeating the Tigers 62-49 behind 29 points from Nikos Connaway and 16 points from Cody Smith, prior to facing Class 1 No. 5 Higbee (18-2) at 8 p.m. Friday in the Ramey Basketball Mid-Missouri Invitational in Harrisburg. The Indians then will travel to Mexico at 7:30 p.m. to face Missouri Military Academy (7-8).

Van-Far girls missing point guard in 54-23 loss to Montgomery County

Van-Far starting point guard Carmen Wilburn was not only dressed in street clothes Monday night but was wearing a walking boot.

Lady Indians vs Montgomery County Photo Gallery

Wilburn is out with an injured ankle and couldn’t help the Lady Indians as they lost 54-23 at home to reigning Eastern Missouri Conference champion Montgomery County (16-5, 6-0 EMO), who received votes in the most recent Class 3 state poll.

Van-Far (3-16, 0-6 EMO) struggled mightily on offense against Montgomery’s press as it didn’t convert on its first field goal until around the 6:30 mark in the third quarter and trailed 49-3 at halftime. 

“Sometimes, the point guards don’t get enough credit,” Minter said. “Tonight, it showed. That’s what we’re missing is our point guard. We’re just trying to get other kids to take over that role and go from there.”

Wilburn has been dealing with ankle problems ever since mid-December when the Lady Indians faced Paris in the Gary Filbert Classic in Mexico, Minter said. After playing through it up until after Wednesday’s loss to Clopton in the Bowling Green Tournament, Minter said Wilburn was shut down and put in a cast.

Minter had Katelyn Sutton fill Wilburn’s spot in the lineup and asked her along with Madelynn Caldwell to take turns advancing the ball across half court.

“I think they did the best they could, and that’s all you could ask,” Minter said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re just going to see what’s going to happen.”

Malia Rodgers and Maddy Queathem were the biggest thorns in the Van-Far offense’s side as they finished with four and three steals, respectively, while hitting all seven 3-pointers for Montgomery County. Rodgers finished with 19 points and Queathem had 18 points.

Mara Jensen managed to finish in double figures at 10 points to go with nine rebounds, five steals and a block for Van-Far. Sutton was the next leading scorer at six points, banking it two 3-pointers. 

The Lady Indians mounted an 8-0 run after Montgomery scored the first bucket of the second half, including Sutton’s first good shot from deep. She managed to knock it in off the glass again in the fourth quarter.

Montgomery County started using its substitutes early in the second half as the Lady Wildcats’ starting five that all returned from last year’s conference championship team did enough damage.

“We play a 3-2 defensively,” Minter said. “We’ve been playing a box and 1 on teams, but they’re so good you can’t do that to them. So we played a basic 3-2.”

Van-Far played a conference road game Thursday against Mark Twain (0-17, 0-5 EMO), defeating the Lady Tigers 54-42 for its first Eastern Missouri Conference win, before facing Higbee (14-6) on Friday during the Ramey Basketball Mid-Missouri Invitational at Harrisburg. The Lady Indians then host Wellsville-Middletown (10-6, 1-2 EMO) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We have nine or 10 games left and Carmen’s out so we’ve just to figure out ways to get better and improve,” Minter said. “That’s all we can do.”


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