After spending the early part of the season re-inventing itself from the past few seasons, the Fort Osage boys basketball team is on a roll it doesn’t want to end.
A starting lineup that used to have a trio of players around 6-foot-6 now has four-guard look this season for the Indians, and lately the opposition hasn’t done much to slow them down.
Tuesday against visiting Belton, Fort Osage erased a 12-point deficit in the second quarter and never trailed in the second half on its way to a 64-58 Suburban Middle Seven win.
With its eighth straight victory, the Indians improved to 13-5 overall and maintained their perch atop the conference at 6-1.
“I’ve been trying to preach to them: We’re back on top of the conference, so now everybody’s going to be giving us their best effort,” Fort Osage coach Josh Wilson said. “Early on, our mantra was ‘We’re the underdog; people think we lost everybody from last year.’ Now people are gunning for us. There’s not an easy victory left.
“We came out flat, and (the Pirates) jumped on us.”
Belton (5-13) broke down Fort Osage’s press for easy looks and some putbacks to take a 21-12 lead after the first quarter, then pushed the advantage to 28-16 before Wilson called timeout at the 4:38 mark of the second.
“We kept hurting ourselves early on. They do a very good job of spreading you out, taking you one-on-one,” Wilson said of the Pirates. “We just concentrated on man-to-man defense and got them to take some bad shots.”
By that time, the Indians had ditched their press, and they clamped down their half-court defense to yield just two more points before halftime.
Skylar Thompson started the comeback with a 3-pointer, then got a steal to resulted in a layup and potential three-point play. Thompson missed the free throw, but Brandon Hoeppner tipped the rebound and Thompson grabbed it for a putback.
Following a throwaway by Belton, Brian Starr drove the distance for a basket, and Hoeppner’s putback capped an 11-0 run to make it 28-27. In the final minutes, Starr’s baseline drive for a hoop and Mathias Solberg’s offensive rebound leading to a split of two free throws produced a halftime tie at 30.
“Defense and rebounding,” Starr said about the keys to that rally. “We had to defend the straight lines. We were giving up too many straight lines to the basket and too many offensive rebounds.”
The Indians didn’t let halftime stifle their momentum, as Thompson scored a driving basket to open the third quarter, Hoeppner scored off Starr’s assist and Starr added a pair of free throws to make it 36-30 in the first two-plus minutes.
“All of a sudden, it eased the pressure on us and put the pressure back on them,” Wilson said.
“That was a big momentum builder coming out of halftime,” added Starr, whose 14 points led Fort Osage.
Thompson’s transition assist to Hoeppner pushed the lead to double digits for the first time at 50-39, and Fort Osage led 50-42 going into the fourth. The lead reached a highwater mark of 61-47 on Will Penamon’s fast-break assist to Bailey Williamson.
The closest Belton got in the fourth was the final score. Darius Taylor’s 19 points led the Pirates, while Antwon Winn hit four 3-pointers on his way to 16 points and Levi Washington added 13 points.
Thompson finished with 13 points, Hoeppner came off the bench to score nine of his 11 after halftime and Penamon and Logan Haugmo pitched in nine apiece.
Wilson said it’s crucial to get contributions from players like Hoeppner if teams key on the “three-headed monster” of Penamon, Starr and Thompson.
“Brandon started (in the season) early for us, with our lack of size,” Wilson said. “He had some big baskets, and we was able to get some rebounds and some deflections.”
Cal Harris' 21 points led Fort Osage's junior varsity to a 60-46 win.