The Wheaton Bulldogs claimed the Ozark 7 Conference boys basketball championship with an 82-72 home win over Southwest on Tuesday, Feb. 22. Wheaton ended a nine-game losing skid against the Trojans in the process, beating their Barry County and conference rivals for the first time since Dec. 28, 2007.
"They hit shots. They made plays," said Wheaton's Rusty Roe of his young team. "It doesn't take a lot of coaching when you have kids playing like that. This game was more about the Jimmy's and Joe's, instead of the X's and O's."
Sean Goostree poured in 32 points for the Bulldogs in the foul-filled affair. Southwest was whistled for 32 assaults in a scorebook that looked more like a district attorney's case list. Wheaton players committed 19 fouls for a game total of 51.
The Bulldogs converted 35 of 52 free throws, to 13 of 18 for the Trojans.
After Skylar Knoll rolled to the basket to give Southwest a brief 2-0 lead, a first-quarter run put the Bulldogs ahead, 9-2.
Wheaton's hot shooting and a flurry of Southwest turnovers led to a 20-15 edge for the home team at the end of the first period. Of greater concern to Horn and the Trojans was the foul count: Southwest accumulated eight personals in the first eight minutes and started the second period just two fouls shy of putting Wheaton in the double bonus.
Wheaton opened on an emotional high after honoring lone senior Jakob Beck in Senior Night activities before the contest, and the Bulldogs seemed a half step ahead on nearly every first quarter play.
In the second frame, Southwest appeared ready to take the lead. Josh Cutberth's coast-to-coast layup cut the Bulldog advantage to 24-21 with 5:33 on the clock.
Senior Justin Barber scored 8 points in the opening quarter and canned two baskets in the first three minutes of the second. But after dropping in a soft jumper to finish a fast break and cut the lead to 24-23, Barber was whistled for a technical foul after the play.
The play flipped the momentum of the game. Wheaton finished with a 14-2 run over the last 5:09 of the half and owned a 38-25 lead at intermission.
Southwest's Jason Horn had reason for concern at halftime.
"We showed little effort on the defensive end in the first half, and they were able to capitalize on our mistakes," said Horn.
Mounting foul troubles plagued both teams. Even though his squad had far fewer fouls than Southwest, Roe was also concerned. His bench was much shorter than Horn's, and he couldn't risk getting in a rat game with the Trojans.
Conventional wisdom called for Wheaton to slow it down, work the clock and stay out of further foul trouble. Rusty Roe had other ideas.
"When you have played a team three times already and lost them all, you feel like you have nothing to lose," he said. "We didn't feel the pressure of this game like Southwest did."
With Goostree just trying to stay on the court with three fouls, Jory Bartkoski and Bubba Galvan stepped up big for the Bulldogs. Time and time again, Galvan salvaged possessions with key rebounds, and the pair attacked the rim with great success.
Midway through the third quarter, Southwest's Cam McCurdy was whistled for an intentional foul, and then Horn drew a bench technical for his opposition to the call. Goostree sank three of the four free throws, and Wheaton retained possession in a series of events that resulted in a 19-point Wheaton lead.
Credit the Trojans for not folding. Twice in the fourth quarter, Southwest pulled within 10 points. But Wheaton answered every challenge, making a couple of tough shots in the lane and sinking critical free throws down the stretch. When the horn sounded, the Bulldogs had earned a conference championship with the 82-72 final.
Pandemonium reigned in the Bulldog gym. Wheaton's student section went all out all night, greeting Horn and his team with posters and chants, and enthusiastically supporting their Bulldogs.
"The Wheaton student section was great," praised Horn. "They showed up in numbers, they were loud, they were positive, and they had fun. That's a big part of high school basketball."
The Bulldogs earned their first Ozark 7 title since the 2003-04 season, and their first ever crown under Coach Rusty Roe, a Southwest graduate.
Wheaton scorers: Sean Goostree, 32; Jory Bartkoski, 19; Bubba Galvan, 17; Jakob Beck, 6; Jesse Mitchell, 6; and Kyle Robbins, 2.
Southwest scorers: Travis Hayworth, 19; Justin Barber, 16; Josh Cutberth, 12; Austin Rettman, 6; James Pettit, 5; Cam McCurdy, 5; Jordan Epling, 4; Skylar Knoll, 4; and Jeff Elkins, 1.