Having competed in the opening round of the NAIA Championship Tournament, a month shy of a year ago, the College of the Ozarks Bobcats stepped back on the court to open their 2021 season Tuesday night at Crowley’s Ridge College. The Pioneers, having already played 23 games on their schedule, felt like they had the upper hand from the onset. The Bobcats, on the other hand, had other plans.
With a Treydon Rackley three, the Bobcats made it known that they were ready to play. The first half was a back and forth battle as both teams traded baskets throughout. With nearly five minutes gone in the half, Andrew Mitchell connected from long range to tie the score at 8-8. The Pioneers followed with a basket by Montrell James before Mitchell connected on another three to make it 11-10 Bobcats. The Bobcats would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the half but could never create more than a six point spread before the buzzer. Both teams shot close to 50% from the field in the half and the rebound margin was slightly in favor of Crowley’s Ridge. The two teams traded fast break points and three-point baskets and C of O went into the intermission leading 39-35.
The second half was much the same. The Pioneers scored first on a K.J. Corder bucket in the paint. A Bobcat turnover led to a basket by Pioneer, Kyle Moore and the score was knotted at 39. The Bobcats would continue to hold their own and maintain the lead until a Montrell James basket gave the Pioneers their first lead since early in the game, 45-43. The next several minutes turned into a defensive battle as neither team could seem to break through and put points on the board. Two free throws by Bobcat, Josh Linehan tied the score at 45 with 16:07 left to play. Linehan then regained the Bobcat lead with a deep three with 15:00 left in the game. The lead was up to seven, 56-49, for the Bobcats after Treydon Rackley drained a three with 13:12 remaining. That was as far as the Bobcats would be able to pull away as their shooting started to cool off and the Pioneers started chipping away at the lead. The Bobcat defense was able to hold off the Pioneers and maintain the lead until the 9:24 mark. Logan Willett put the Pioneers ahead with two free throws and the score was 61-59. The Bobcats were able to even the score one more time at 61 with a Garrett Simmerman bucket and just under nine minutes to go. The Bobcats cold shooting continued and the Pioneers slowly began to put some space between them and the visitors from C of O. The six minute mark signaled the shift in momentum. Crowley’s Ridge applied full court pressure and was able to force a couple of quick turnovers with baskets to follow. The Pioneers had built an eight point lead, 72-64, and the Bobcats had work to do to get things back under control. A time out by Coach Steve Shepherd was enough to calm the team but the momentum had taken a big jump in favor of the Pioneers. With 2:11 left to play a Treydon Rackley basket made it a ten point game, 80-70. The Bobcats battled but were not able to recover from the deficit and fell by a final score of 82-72.
“I thought our guys played well considering it was our first game of the season. We had our chances to extend leads throughout the first 30 minutes but we didn’t maintain our intensity enough to do so. We didn’t defend well or shoot well in the second half. Those two things do not go well together.” Commented Coach Shepherd. “I am optimistic as our young team continues to grow and gain experience.”
The Bobcats had four guys in double figures led by Josh Linehan with 15, Andrew Mitchell and Garrett Simmerman with 14, and Treydon Rackley with 13. Ayden Stone added 8, and Matt Luebbert and Tanner Diaz each added 4.
The Bobcats will be back in action on the road this Thursday, February 4, at Oklahoma Wesleyan in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.