The egos on the Cowley College men’s basketball team have been effectively shut down by coach Tommy DeSalme.
“We’re not that talented, we’re not going to match up that well with a lot of the teams we play,” DeSalme said. “If we want to win, it’s going to have to be ugly most of the time. I tell them that all the time.”
And, to its credit, his team has bought into this self-effacing mantra, Sunday’s 61-52 win over Hutchinson in the Region VI quarterfinals being just the latest example as Cowley shot 35.3 percent from the field, was outrebounded by 12 and still came out on top.
The Tigers will face Barton in one of today’s semifinals at Hartman Arena.
“Hutch has more talent than us, you can’t debate that,” said Cowley forward Kamren Belin, who led his team with 18 points and six rebounds. “But we’re a better team.”
The Blue Dragons started on fire, taking a 17-5 lead midway through the first half before the Tigers stormed back to tie the score 23-23 at halftime.
Cowley scored five points in the first minute of the second half to go up to 28-23 and never relinquished its lead, keeping Hutchinson at arm’s length the rest of the game, suffocating the Blue Dragons on defense with hands in the face when shots went up on the perimeter, and physical play when the ball went to the block.
“I’m really proud of how we played defense,” said Cowley’s Adonis Bailey, who scored 16 points. “Regardless of what the score was, we told ourselves we’d keep fighting for each other until the end.”
Cowley forward Gavin Brown and Belin were especially effective against the Blue Dragons, contesting every time a Hutchinson player tried to get to the rim, limiting the effectiveness of slashers like Mark Braden and Anthony Thomas.
“Gavin is the man,” DeSalme said. “He’s been my leader from Day 1 and he’ll never fill up a stat sheet but what he does for us you can’t replace.”
Hutchinson had a chance to tie the score with just over five minutes left. Trailing 49-47, Thomas missed a pair of free throws — part of a five-minute stretch where the Blue Dragons were held without a field goal. Hutchinson made just 9 of 17 free throws and 1 of 13 three-point attempts. Thomas led Hutchinson with 13 points.
“When we can’t make free throws and we can’t make shots, it’s hard to get over the hump,” Hutchinson coach Steve Eck said. “And we didn’t create turnovers. We didn’t dig in and guard like we’ve been doing.”