By Ethan Colbert
Through 15 games of the 2018-2019 basketball season, free throws have been the Achilles’ heel for the Bowling Green Bobcats.
In three of those games this season, the Bobcats free throw woes likely cost them victories over opponents such as Hannibal, Palmyra, and Mexico.
In the Hannibal loss at the beginning of the season, the Bobcats shot an abysmal 23 percent from the free throw line.
The Bobcats were improved slightly in their game against Palmyra, where they shot a 36 percent from the free throw line.
In the Mexico game, the Bobcats continued to struggle, posting a 27 percent shooting percentage from the free throw line.
So when the Bobcats shot a 64 percent in the second round of the 94th Annual Bowling Green High School Invitational Tournament, Head Coach Brandon McCann was pleased.
The first-year head coach said he was even more pleased to learn that the team shot an impressive 80 percent from the free throw line with just two minutes to go in regulation in Thursday night’s game against the Elsberry Indians.
“I am shocked by that,” McCann said in a post-game interview. “I didn’t expect that at all. I knew Gavin made a lot, but I didn’t know that we only missed two. Free throws are something that we have worked on a lot in practice and I think the guys are finally starting to get their confidence and to get their stroke down from the free throw line.”
Two of those players who helped cement Bowling Green’s 53-51 victory over Elsberry were Gavin Deters and Michael Starks.
In the semi-final game, Deters finished with 8 points, which all came by way of the free throw line.
Starks, who has seen quality varsity playing time as a freshman at BGHS, hit a free throw that gave Bowling Green’s legion of fans a sigh of relief after Elsberry had nearly erased the once 12-point lead on the scoreboard and made it a three point game.
After the win, Starks said he felt like he was oozing the confidence that his head coach spoke of in his post-game interview.
“We just had to win,” Starks said. “We knew we had to win and to win we had to make those free throws. It is that simple.”
He added later that he never doubted that the Bobcats were going to win Thursday night’s contest and improve their record to 10-6.
“We are Bowling Green, after all,” Starks said. His teammate, Gavin Deters, also referenced confidence in his interview.
“I knew I was going to make it and I just stepped to the line with confidence,” Deters said. “I had (the crowd) all shut out and I just had to play the game. I knew those were shots that we just had to have.”
And Deters wasn’t exaggerating.
In the semi-final game, Bowling Green and Elsberry battled back and forth for much of the first quarter with neither team able to gain much of an advantage on the scoreboard.
Then, in the second quarter, Bowling Green again played its best basketball of the game, scoring 10 points while holding Elsberry to just 4 points.
The Bobcats continued to distance themselves over the Indians, leading by 10 points headed into the final period.
However, it is in the final period that Elsberry launched its comeback attempt and the Indians were eventually able to pull within three points of the Bobcats with 1:22 remaining in the game.
In the team’s huddle after Elsberry’s head coach had called a time-out, McCann said he stressed to the team to have confidence in the game’s waning minutes.
“I just told the guys what I had told them before the game, that it was all going to come down to confidence,” McCann said. “When you have confidence, the game is easy and you start to see shots come down more easily. I told them to play with confidence.”
The team responded with Starks driving towards the lane with 51.7 seconds left to play in the game. While his shot missed its target, Starks was able to convert on one of his aforementioned free throw attempts to extend the lead to 50-46.
After Elsberry was able to score on its next possession, McCann called a time-out with 35.2 seconds left to play in the game. Again, McCann said he stressed to the Bobcats to play with confidence.
“I told them that when we have confidence we are a different caliber of a team,” McCann said. “I told them to not stop fighting for this (win).”
In bounding the ball, the Bobcats were able to find Gavin Deters who was intentionally fouled by the Indians who sought to stop the clock.
Deters converted on both of his free throws and re-extended the lead to four points.
A mere 18.5 seconds later and Bowling Green had won the game.
After the game, McCann said he never doubted that his team could win the game.
“I trust my players 100 percent,” McCann said. “I can rely on any one of my guys — not just Kameron, not just Kaleo, not just Gavin or George — to go out there and to make a play. I trust them and that is why they are out there on the floor.”
Scoring for Bowling Green in this game were: Kaleo Dade, 17 points; Kameron Worley, 15 points; Gavin Deters, 8 points; George Niemeyer, 8 points; and Michael Starks, 4 points.