GOODLAND, Kan. -- The McCook High School boys nearly pulled off a monumental upset and comeback Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Topside Tipoff Tournament.
The Bison rallied from a 21-point halftime deficit to nearly take the lead in the fourth quarter before Ottawa, Kan. pulled away for a 62-54 win in the tournament championship finals. Saturday's game was played at the Max Jones Fieldhouse in Goodland, Kan.
McCook's boys advanced to the title game with a 58-44 win over host Goodland in semifinal action Friday, Dec. 7.
Ottawa features Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-6 talent who has committed to play college basketball at powerhouse Duke University next season. Ojeleye tallied 41 points against the Bison Saturday.
McCook head coach Jeremy Yilk said his team got in foul trouble and fell behind in the first half Saturday trying to slow down Ottawa's star player. McCook trailed 40-19 at intermission.
"The Ojeleye kid was putting us in a lot of tough situations, just in terms of his overall size and athleticism," Yilk said. "We were doing everything in our power to try and slow him down. We just got into foul trouble. We had to go real deep into our bench, and that kind of threw us out of our rhythm a little bit.
"They shot a ton of free throws. That was the big difference in the first half."
For the game, Ottawa hit 26 of 36 free throws (72.2 percent). Ojeleye was 16 of 19 at the line.
The second half was a complete turnaround for the Bison.
"We kind of forced them to defend us a little bit more," Yilk said. "We were the ones who got to the free throw line and got them into some foul trouble."
The McCook comeback was fueled by senior Cody Wudtke, who tallied 20 of his team-high 22 points in the second half.
The Bison cut the gap to 52-38 after three quarters, then steadily cut into Ottawa's lead to get within two points with about 90 seconds remaining in the final period. McCook missed a 3-point shot. The Bison were forced to foul, and Ottawa hit free throws down the stretch to hold on for the tournament title.
"Overall, very proud of the kids for the way they just kept chipping away at (Ottawa's) lead," coach Yilk said. "The more we kind of got into and were able to generate some offense, the more confidence we got. We hung around and about pulled it out at the end."
McCOOK was chilly at the charity stripe, one of the main reasons for the final outcome. The Bison made just 6 of 17 free throws (35.3 percent).
"That definitely hurt us, not hitting our free throws," Yilk said.
Sean Backer also scored in double figures with 10 points Saturday, and he also led the Bison with 7 rebounds.
Coach Yilk thinks the strong showing against the top-ranked Class 4A team in Kansas will be a confidence boost for his Bison.
"I was very happy and very pleased with the way our kids fought back," he said. "There's no give-up in these kids. They believed the whole time that they belonged in the finals, that they belonged on the same floor as Ottawa, Kansas.
"This will lead them to believe that we can play with anybody. No matter what situation we're in, whether we're up big or down big, we have the character to hang on to it or to fight back. Their attitude is tremendous. We've just got a great bunch of kids."
McCOOK GOToff to a slow start in Friday's semifinals against Goodland at the Max Jones Fieldhouse. The Bison led 29-25 at halftime, but outscored the host Cowboys 29-19 in the second half.
"In the second half they were challenged to pick up the pace a little bit, move the ball a little better with the pass," Yilk said. "That just kind of got us going. That led to more stops defensively, and we got some transition buckets and extended the lead."
Wudtke had another big game and a huge second half. The 6-3 senior scored 20 of his game-high 24 points after intermission. Backer also had 12 points and 7 rebounds, with Wudtke and Lucas Post also grabbing 7 boards each.