COLUMBUS — The Scottsbluff boys basketball team heads into the New Year knowing it’s capable of making a lot of noise down the stretch in Class B this season.
The Bearcats, though, also know they still have plenty to work on in order to get to where they want to be.
The Class B defending state champion Bearcats, who won their first eight games this season and earned the No. 1 ranking in the Omaha World-Herald’s Class B preseason poll, suffered their second straight loss Saturday, a 59-45 setback to district foe McCook in the third-place game of the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference Tournament.
“I’ve been saying all along that they might be the top team in the district, and right now they definitely are,” Scottsbluff coach Tony Siske said.
The Scottsbluff girls, meanwhile, earned a 45-33 win over Hastings on Saturday in the seventh-place game of the GNAC Girls Tournament.
The Scottsbluff boys, who are now 8-2 on the season, couldn’t make up for a bad start against McCook (7-1). The hot-shooting Bison ended the first quarter with an 18-4 lead.
“We played a really good team, and we didn’t come out and compete with them right away,” Siske said. “That was the difference in the game. They beat us by 14 in the first quarter, and we played them even from there on out.”
Siske added, “We just couldn’t keep up with them. They were beating us offensively, breaking us down and getting good shots.”
Scottsbluff entered the contest hoping to rebound from its first loss of the season, a 52-42 setback to Class A Kearney on Friday in the semifinals. Though the Bearcats were determined to finish the tournament strongly, they couldn’t match the Bison’s early output.
“We challenged the kids to see how they could handle coming off a loss, but we came out a little flat,” Siske said.
Solid shooting wasn’t the only factor that was in McCook’s favor in the first half. The Bison also rebounded well, particularly on offense, and got some key transition points.
“They were just a little more active than us,” Siske said. “At halftime, they had six offensive rebounds, and we had none. The most disappointing thing was we didn’t have any offensive rebounds, but we also got beat in transition sometimes. That can’t happen. If you’re not getting offensive rebounds, you better get back and protect the basket. We weren’t doing either, so that was disappointing.”
Scottsbluff, which shot just 34 percent against Kearney, made only 33 percent of its field goals against McCook. Although the Bison didn’t shoot much better – 36 percent for the game – McCook managed to maintain a double-digit lead thanks to its early outburst.
McCook, which outscored Scottsbluff just 16-15 in the second frame, entered halftime with a 34-19 advantage. The Bearcats did everything they could to rally in the second half, but cold shooting continued to plague Scottsbluff, which shot just 25 percent in the third quarter and 33 percent in the final period.
“I think we’re the type of team that’s capable of overcoming a [15-point] halftime deficit, but we’ve got to play better than we did today,” Siske said.
Michael Hadden had a solid showing for Scottsbluff, tallying 12 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. He was 2-for-3 from 3-point range and 5-for-10 from the field overall. Taylor Winkler finished with 12 points, and Tyler Mickey had seven points. Eric Moreno had five rebounds, Austin Clarkson had four rebounds, and Beau Lofink had six points and three assists.
One of the bright spots in the game, Siske said, was Scottsbluff’s bench production.
“Our bench players did come in and play well for us, so that was a positive,” he said. “Maybe they’ll earn more playing time as the season goes on.”
McCook had three players finish in double figures in scoring, topped by Mack Alspaugh with 20 points. Sean Backer had 16 points, and Cody Wudtke had 12 points and 13 rebounds. Lucas Post had nine points and 13 rebounds.
For the game, McCook out-rebounded Scottsbluff 38-32. McCook had only five turnovers compared to 10 for Scottsbluff.
The Bearcats will look to end their losing skid Friday when they travel to Alliance. Scottsbluff will then play Saturday against Rapid City Stevens, S.D., at WNCC’s Cougar Palace.
McCook (7-1).....................................18 16 12 13—59
Scottsbluff (8-2).......................4 15 12 14—45
Mack Alspaugh 20, Sean Backer 16, Lucas Post 9, Zayne Gillen 2, Cody Wudtke 12.
Beau Lofink 6, Austin Clarkson 4, Michael Hadden 12, Eric Moreno 2, Tyler Mickey 7, Dillon Hernandez 2, Taylor Winkler 12.