The College of the Ozarks Bobcats fell behind early in the Association of Independent Institutions tournament championship game Saturday and struggled to recover, falling 68-60 to the Voorhees Tigers.
The Bobcats started the scoring with two Ayden Stone baskets, but a defensive battle ensued and neither team could put together consistent scoring. At the 16:30 mark in the first half, the score remained 4-0 Bobcats. The Tigers broke the seal with a basket with 16:22 left to play in the half and put together an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to lead 8-4. The Bobcats shooting woes continued as the Tigers began to heat up. The Cats would not score until a basket in the paint by Matt Luebbert, with 13:40 left in the half. The Tigers began to slowly pull away and with 7:01 left to play, had built a 22-9 lead. The Bobcats scoring struggles were compounded by a rash of turnovers and un uphill climb became an evident reality. A three by Treydon Rackley would break the drought for the Cats and they began to claw their way back into the game. The quick and athletic Voorhees squad had an answer any time the Bobcats tried to gain momentum. The Tigers maintained the nine point lead until another Rackley three found the bottom of the net to make it 29-26 with 3:16 left on the clock. Voorhees added two more points on a basket by Hector Rosario and Ayden Stone responded with a layup on the other end. The Bobcats would close out the scoring in the half with two free throws by Josh Linehan and they would trail at the break, 31-27.
The second half began with a quick basket by the Tigers’ Joell Davis and the lead was back to six. The Bobcats continued to fight but could not seem to get the momentum on their side. With 15:09 remaining in the game, Andrew Mitchell would connect on a three to bring the Bobcats to within five, 40-35. Voorhees would answer with a 9-2 run and expand the lead to 49-36. Ayden Stone and Josh Linehan would add baskets to another Andrew Mitchel three and the Bobcats would pull to within seven, 50-43. The Tigers answered again, and the lead was back to nine. That seemed to be the magic number the Bobcats could not overcome the rest of the game. As the Bobcats continued to work hard to climb out of the hole, the Tigers continually responded and maintained their lead. Time was running out on the Bobcats and the run they needed to overcome the Tigers, was not to be. The Tigers hit their free throws down the stretch and baskets by Treydon Rackley and Josh Linehan would finish out the game as the Tigers secured the 68-60 win and deny the Bobcats the A.I.I. Conference Tournament Crown.
Following the game, Coach Steve Shepherd stated, “I’m proud of the way our team competed tonight. We played from behind the whole game but our guys didn’t give up and fought hard throughout.”
The Bobcats were led by Ayden Stone’s 16 points. Treydan Rackley added 13, Andrew Mitchell chipped in 11, Josh Linehan 10, Garrett Simmerman added four, and Tanner Rogers and Matt Luebbert added three each.
With Friday’s semifinal win, the Bobcats qualified as an A.I.I. representative in the NAIA National Championships opening round for the second consecutive year. The opening round will take place March 12-13 at a site yet to be determined with the final rounds being held in Kansas City Missouri beginning March 18.