At 11-7 overall, the Waynesville Tigers are in great shape to compete for both the conference and district championships in March.
Five losses earlier this season (not including the Lindbergh Tournament) were by a combined 8 points, including two one-point losses – 55-54 to Heritage (Ark.) and 63-62 to McCluer North.
On Friday, however, Coach Chris Pilz's Waynesville squad proved it has learned from so many disappointing fourth quarters and overtime periods.
Waynesville's one-point, 23-22 lead at halftime signified that Jefferson City was here to compete, and they did. In a 7-0 third quarter start, the opposing Jays forced four lead changes and pushed the Tigers to the test in the period. But the black and orange responded and battled back with two consecutive three-pointers to tie the contest at 29, then regained the lead on sophomore Juwan Morgan's sky hook.
Two possessions later, Waynesville extended the lead to 36-32 on Javante Armstrong's made shot and free throw. At the end of the third quarter, the Tigers held the same lead.
But Jefferson City wasn't finished fighting. The stubborn Jays delivered another 8-4 run to open the final period and tie the game at 40-all.
Both teams fought back and forth until Waynesville began a 5-0 run of its own, capped by a steal and easy transition bucket by junior Kellieon Williams.
On the ensuing possession, Jefferson City nailed a three-pointer to pull within two points at 47-45 with a little more than 1:00 remaning.
In the bonus, the Tigers finally proved they can win a tough game (albeit at home) by D.J. Hargrow's clutch bonus free throws to close it out, 53-49.
There's more for the Tigers to learn from Friday's contest.
In the game's first quarter Morgan committed two fouls and was forced to ride the pine. His absence led Jefferson City to grab six more rebounds than Waynesville and to pull within one at halftime.
Those fouls hurt the Tigers and allowed Jefferson City to capitalized while the 6-foot-7 sophomore was on the bench. It's no secret that Morgan is the be-all and end-all for the Waynesville team.
His height and athleticism is almost unmatched in every contest. The sophomore's confidence shows with his physical one-handed rebounds and ability to handle the ball at times. He's got a contagious smile, too.
But he's not the only one.
Hargrow had foul trouble of his own and it's his superior basketball I.Q. that operates the team on both offense and defense.
Learning to close out the game is one thing, but playing safer and being conscious of fouls committed is another. (What if Javante Armstrong or Williams were in foul trouble Friday?)
Page 2 of 2 - If Waynesville can correct each of those aspects and fine-tune other fundamentals, the Tigers will be a force to be reckoned with in games to come.
We know Pilz emphasizes the importance of improving in practice each week.
With seven games remaining, we'll see what this team is made of come mid-February.
Scoring summary: Waynesville – Juwan Morgan, soph., 18 points, 8 rebounds; Javante Armstrong, jr., 9 points, 8 rebounds; Kellieon Williams, jr., 8; D.J. Hargrow, sr., 6; Joe Johnson, fr., 5; Ethan Howser, sr., 3; Dylan Newcomb, sr., 2; Reggie Walker, fr., 2.
Assistant coach Will Harris' comments: "Jeff City has traditionally been a basketball power. Anytime you can get a win against Jeff City is a positive for our program."