It’s a fresh start with a new approach for the Van Horn boys basketball team under first-year coach Max Sollars.
One that nearly turned into a victory for the Falcons in their season opener Wednesday against Warrensburg during the first round of the Van Horn Invitational.
The Falcons displayed a stout defense and an effective transition offense at times through the first 3 1/2 quarters as they stood tied midway through the fourth, but they struggled on offense down the stretch and eventually fell 64-53 to the Tigers.
“It’s tough teaching kids in high school how to close out games when they’re coming from a baseline of zero,” Sollars said. “In our past, we haven’t had a lot of success of finishing games in the fourth. Trying to teach that in a month with no games is a challenge. That’s our biggest challenge, is teaching seniors and experienced players a new culture. We’re still figuring things out as a coaching staff personnel-wise, but I was pleased with our half-court defense. We helped and communicated well, we just fouled a lot.”
After senior Joell Wilson’s 3-pointer tied it at 45 with just under five minutes left, the Tigers answered with a four-point play from Kade Peterson that kick-started a 13-3 run and allowed them to take control.
Warrensburg hit nine of its 23 free throws in the game’s final four minutes while Van Horn managed only one field goal after Wilson’s three before the game got out of reach.
“In a game of 32 minutes, if they hit 23 free throws, no matter how good you are defensively, it’s going to be tough to win,” Sollars said.
Van Horn led throughout the first quarter, but once Peterson hit a 3-pointer to open the second and give the Tigers a 14-12 lead, the Falcons never led again.
Van Horn trailed 27-20 at halftime before Wilson – who finished with 22 points – and Terrion Seddens dominated the third, each tallying eight points to bring the Falcons within one heading into the fourth.
“We had seven travels in the first half,” Sollars said. “Once we got in the locker room we talked and said, ‘This is what we have to do,’ and we came back and had one travel in the second half. So I thought we responded really, really well to our halftime adjustments.”
Van Horn seemingly had momentum on its side following Wilson’s game-tying shot, but Warrensburg’s run down the stretch quickly swung it back to the Tigers.
Dalton Nappe poured in 11 of his game-high 23 points during the final frame for the Tigers.
Though he played a solid game offensively and made some highlight blocks on the defensive end, Wilson said he’s more concerned with getting wins.
“My plan is to score for the team,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to try to perfect. But we lost, so I feel like my points don’t matter when we lose. Every night I’m going to try my very best to get our team points and wins.”
Seddens finished with 14 points and Xavier Marrero added nine for the Falcons, who play Friday night at 5:30 in the consolation semifinals.
Even after one game, Marrero said he’s already seen a difference for Van Horn from last winter.
“As the point guard I felt like we improved a lot as a team,” he said. “We were (6-17) last year and this year I believe we can be over .500 with all the hard work we’ve put in and everything we’ve done in general to prepare for the season.”
Both Wilson and Marrero said they’re glad the season has started.
“It was great (playing a game again),” Wilson said. “The atmosphere is something I missed all throughout the offseason, so it was good to be back on the court.”