McCook High School boys basketball fans might not be surprised to see red and white T-shirts emblazoned with the Bison season slogan popping up. Especially after a weekend performance that saw the McCook boys earn a huge win over North Platte Friday, Dec. 14, followed by a battle against Holdrege Saturday, Dec. 15.
The Bison went toe-to-toe with Class A North Platte Friday at the McCook Senior High School gym. McCook used a strong second half against the physical Bulldogs to claim a 52-48 win. Less than 24 hours later, the Bison struggled early against host Holdrege, but McCook got going in the third quarter then held on for a 50-47 victory.
A CAPACITY CROWD on hand Friday was treated to a battle royal between the Bison boys and Bulldogs, who are coached by McCook High School graduate Matt Kaminski. Bodies crashed to the floor several times during the contest.
North Platte had a definite height advantage with 6-foot-7 junior Drew Callaghan and 6-4 senior Luke Wright. Both North Platte big men got in foul trouble in the first half. Callaghan finished with 10 points, and Wright had just 9 points.
"I'm so proud of the kids the way they handled themselves throughout that game," McCook head coach Jeremy Yilk. "They kept their composure. Whether we were up, whether we were down, they stayed the same, they played within themselves. They fed off the crowd, too -- the crowd was phenomenal. Thank everybody for coming out and supporting these kids. They played their tails off.
"It was just a good win for us. North Platte's a really good team, too. They're going to win a lot of games. So it was just a great win and a great atmosphere for us."
McCOOK LED 24-22 at halftime. The Bison used a pair of 3-point baskets by Sean Backer and another by Zayne Gillen midway through the third quarter to help build an eight-point lead. North Platte cut the gap to 37-33 at the quarter break.
The Bison put together an 8-2 run to start the fourth period and expand the lead to 45-36. Austin Cherry hit a 3-pointer off his offensive rebound, then Mack Alspaugh hit a shot, then stole the ball and drove for a layup and a free throw after he was fouled.
McCook took a 47-41 lead on Alspaugh's two free throws with three minutes left, but North Platte answered with a 3-pointer by Jack Kenny. Kenny led the Bulldogs with 12 points.
North Platte got within 48-46 with just under two minutes remaining. Gillen grabbed a key offensive board for the Bison, and seconds later Lucas Post took a pass on the low block. Post look outside and fed Cody Wudtke for a 3-pointer and a 51-46 Bison lead with 60 seconds to go.
Wright scored for the Bulldogs on a outback following an offensive rebound to get his team within 51-48 with 35 seconds left. Backer missed the front end of a bonus free throw, and North Platte got the rebound and called timeout with 19.7 seconds left.
THE PARTISAN Bison crowd came to its feet and roared its support as North Platte put the ball in play. Callaghan missed a 3-point attempt, then he picked up his fifth foul going for the rebound. Alspaugh missed the first free throw but made the second for a 52-48 McCook lead with 9.2 seconds remaining.
North Platte missed another shot, and Wright tipped the ball out of bounds with less than a second left as he and Backer ran the length of the floor chasing the loose ball. McCook got the ball inbounds to end the game.
McCook hit eight shots from 3-point range, compared to just two for the Bulldogs. The Bison also made 12 of 16 free throws, while North Platte was 6 of 10 at the line.
Wudtke and Alspaugh scored 15 points each to lead the Bison. Backer added 9 points and Cherry had 8.
THE BISON fell behind early Saturday at Holdrege, perhaps showing the effects of the physical win one night earlier. The Dusters led 14-8 after one period. McCook cut the gap to 25-22 at halftime. Wudtke completed a three-point play with a free throw early in the third quarter to tie the score at 25-25, then the Bison used an 8-3 run to lead 33-28.
Holdrege came back to tie the score late in the period, but Alspaugh's 3-pointer helped the Bison take a 38-37 lead into the final eight minutes.
The score was tied 45-45 with just over two minutes to go. Wudtke and Backer each hit a pair of free throws to put the Bison up 49-45. Holdrege got a pair of free throws from Alex Hamling to get the Dusters within 49-47 with 23.8 seconds left. Wudtke made one of two free throws to give McCook a three-point lead. Holdrege missed a 3-point attempt. The Dusters got the rebound and tried to get one last 3-point shot, but the buzzer sounded before the shot was released to preserve McCook's win.
Wudtke scored 13 points and Gillen 12 to lead McCook Saturday. Dillon Hixson paced Holdrege with 14 points.
HOLDREGE has just one win so far this season. But Coach Yilk knew entering Saturday's action that the game was going to be a tough test for his team.
"We knew they were a good team, we knew they were going to play tough defensively," Yilk said. "We were on a night where we didn't quite have our legs. It did take a lot out of us -- the North Platte game was a very emotional game, a very physical game.
"That was my number-one concern (Saturday), fatigue, and how we were going to handle some adversity, too, when we took on a good Holdrege team.They are a lot better than what their record shows, and Coach Buck does a great job with them.
"Overall, we just did enough, and we found a way to win."
THE McCOOK BOYS have one more game before the Christmas holiday. The Bison are scheduled to host unbeaten Phillipsburg, Kan. Thursday, Dec. 20, at the Senior High gym in a double-header with the McCook girls.
Coach Yilk said the Kansas squad has a wealth of experience returning from last season, and he expects another tough test for his squad.
"We're looking forward to that challenge, looking forward to another home game," he said.
SEEDINGS for the 2012 Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament should be announced early this week.
Conference coaches were to submit their seeds Monday, Dec. 17. Each league coach seeds the other seven GNAC teams -- not allowed to vote for their own teams -- and the eight votes are averaged to determine final seeds.
Unbeaten Scottsbluff and the Bison could be the top two seeds, and Class A Kearney should also draw consideration for a top three spot.
The GNAC Tournament is scheduled Dec. 27-29 at Columbus.