STANBERRY, Mo. — Monday’s first-round game of the Stanberry Invitational between South Nodaway and Stanberry was not the model for the modern basketball’s pace-and-space style. The old-school game turned into a test of physicality and toughness as no drive seemed to be met without a contact.
For the first half of the game, that style seemed to catch the Longhorns off guard and the Bulldogs held a 19-17 lead at halftime, but in the second half, the Longhorns adjusted and were able to pick up the 46-34 victory.
“We kind of switched up what we were doing a little bit in the second half,” South Nodaway coach Dustin Skoglund said. “I anticipated that Stanberry would come out and play hard-nosed basketball. They are well-coached and that is kind of what they do. They’ve done that for several years. They have tough kids and I thought we were able to match their toughness in the second half and bring some of our physicality.”
One of the catalysts for the win was senior forward Taylar Freemyer. The Bulldogs limited Freemyer well in the opening half with his only two baskets coming on steals and transition layups, but in the second half, the three-time All-275 selection came out much more aggressive.
“I realized that I was being a little bit too passive in the first half, so in the second half, I just tried to turn it up,” Freemyer said.
South Nodaway senior Tanner Davis opened the third quarter with a three-pointer, but Stanberry junior Hunter Johnson answered with a basket to put the Bulldogs back in front.
That is when Freemyer began to take control of the game. He drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws to regain the lead and then scored on a put-back for a 24-21 advantage.
“We challenged them in the locker room at halftime,” Skoglund said. “We felt like we were getting out-hustled and out-muscled on the glass. They are an athletic team, but we are an athletic team too so we felt like more than anything that was an effort thing. Definitely when it comes to emotion, Taylar is our leader. He set the tone, came out and showed what it looks like to play hard. … He brings that intensity and the rest of the guys followed his lead.”
Stanberry answered with a Tristen Lager three-ball to knot the game up again, but Davis’ second three of the quarter got the Longhorns back in front. A Freemyer basket stretched the margin to five points.
After Stanberry’s Colin Sager and Freemyer traded two points each, Stanberry’s Aiden Gregory cut the score to 31-28. With the inside game established, the Longhorns were able to find their open outside shooters and junior CJ Sipes connected on a three to make the margin six. The Longhorn lead was 34-30 entering the fourth.
“If they are double-teaming Taylar, Taylar knows what he is doing,” Sipes said. “He knows how to get out of those situations and he can find the open guy.”
South Nodaway’s offense kept the momentum early in the fourth with Freemyer scoring on the interior and Sipes staying hot with back-to-back threes for a 42-30 advantage.
“From a confidence standpoint, I think he is feeling pretty good,” Skoglund said. “He can definitely shoot the ball as he showed. You put him, (Kole) Kramer, Cade (Henggeler), Tanner and all those guys that can shoot — and Taylar is no slouch — that gives us opportunities to then play inside-out.”
Stanberry cut the lead back to ten briefly, but another Freemyer basket and a pair of Kole Kramer foul shots put the game away.
“It was a struggle,” Sipes said. “But in the end, all that matters is that we kept our heads in it and that we continued to work as a team.”
Freemyer led the team with 16 points, including 12 after halftime, while Sipes had 12 points, all on threes. Davis added eight while Kramer had five, Clayton Walker had three and Cade Henggeler had two.
“We had to keep up intensity, but also keep up our patience on offense,” Freemyer said. “Intensity on defense so we could get some transition going and patience on offense so we could work through our offense.”
Stanberry was paced by Lager with 11 and Sager with nine.
The fourth-seed Longhorns will likely draw top-seeded Mound City in the semifinals on Thursday at 9 p.m. while fifth-seeded Stanberry will likely get eighth-seeded King City in the consolation semifinals on Wednesday at 9 p.m.
“You have to play a clean game,” Skoglund said of the potential Mound City game. “There is probably not a team around as athletic as they are and they are well-coached, they know who they are and they are hard-nosed. … There is just no room for mistakes against a team of that caliber.”