Basketball teams have to swallow their pride to beat Circle, because doing so comes with the recognition that you're probably not going to win playing your way. Succumb to their style and you just might.
The Thunderbirds offer the opposition one choice — be tough or lose.
Thursday, Collegiate made the right one, led by Doug Burton, whose preference is to leave the physical play to his teammates.
Burton altered his normal approach and was game for a fight. He grinded his way to 10 points and 12 rebounds in the Spartans' 48-40 win in the season finale. The teams split two games and tied for the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division IV title.
"I'm definitely more of an outside guy who drives, and I tend to avoid contact," Burton said. "But when the need calls I will step up."
Circle wins by allowing its big, strong guards to wear down opponents and by using its contact skills to get to the free-throw line.
Since both teams played similarly Thursday, Circle had difficulty gaining its usual advantages, and the Thunderbirds rarely made Collegiate uncomfortable.
The Spartans defend as well as Circle, but their offense is typically more fast-paced. Since Circle shut down that option, Collegiate had to plan for its defense to remain steady while its scorers and depth made the difference at the end.
"I think they adapted to our style pretty well, obviously — they won a game in the 40s," Circle coach Burt Helmer said. "We had a decided free-throw advantage throughout the season and that was non-existent tonight. We had four turnovers in the first half and in the second half we had so many turnovers (15) that I'm not sure we got enough shots up to have a chance."
Collegiate's big shot came from guard Kevin Richardson, a reliable three-point shooter who missed his first five shots Thursday.
His sixth shot came a minute after a Circle three-point play cut Collegiate's lead to 40-39 with 4:56 to go in the fourth quarter and threatened to tilt momentum the Thunderbirds' way. But Richardson swished a three-pointer from the corner.
Collegiate's defense did the rest, holding Circle to four points in the final six minutes.
"We had just been a little bit off," Collegiate coach Mitch Fiegel said. "There had been two or three loose balls where dang if they didn't pop right in their hands. We made that little run late and we told them, 'If you keep scratching, keep clawing, keep digging, we're going to get a little spurt', and we did."
Jordan Phillips is Circle's most dangerous post threat and biggest x-factor. He scored seven points in the first half but was held in check in the second by Trace Clark, who sacrificed offense to hold back Phillips.
The canceling out of the big men magnified Burton's efforts. His rebounding often limited Circle's chances, and he broke a 36-36 tie in the fourth with back-to-back baskets, giving Collegiate the lead for good.
"Doug Burton's been as good as anybody on our team every single night," Fiegel said. "He's really gotten into a flow offensively, he's guarding his brains out, he's rebounding. Doug Burton's playing like a seasoned senior, and that's what we've come to expect from our seniors."
Circle (17-3, 9-1) 13 10 10 7 — 40 Collegiate (18-2, 9-1) 10 13 11 14 — 48
CIRCLE: Unruh 3, Tunnell 6, Warren 17, Gardinier 1, Phillips 12, Ronnebaum 1. Totals 13 (4) 10-17 40.
COLLEGIATE: Tisdale 10, Richardson 5, Taylor 3, Ha. Morris 1, Phox 6, Adams 2, Kemmer 2, Burton 10, Clark 9. Totals 18 (2) 10-17 48.