CONWAY SPRINGS – There have been days this basketball season when Conway Springs coach Bernie Pearson has wondered if his team was buying what he was selling.
It’s not an uncommon courtship between a new coach and players.
“He pushes us and pushes us,” Cardinals sophomore Josh Dugan said. “We work really hard in practice.”
The effort definitely spilled over to game night on Friday. Led by Dugan’s 23 points and 17 rebounds, Conway Springs used a strong second half to defeat Independent 63-55 for its fourth consecutive victory.
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In a battle that featured big momentum swings, Conway Springs (5-4, 2-0 Central Plains League) finally seized control with a game-ending 13-5 run. Dugan provided one of the biggest moments, following in senior Matthew Leddy’s missed free throw for a 62-53 lead with 57 seconds remaining.
“We wanted to be physical,” Pearson said. “I think they have more skilled players than we do, but I thought if we could be a little more physical, that’s where we’d have the edge.”
Independent (6-4, 0-2) came in averaging 71.4 points, while Conway Springs had limited its previous three opponents to 35, 33 and 34 points. But the Cardinals, who trailed 22-16 late in the first half, looked plenty comfortable in charging to a 43-33 lead with 1:55 to play in the third quarter.
“We just couldn’t get into the flow,” Independent coach Rob Fields said. “We’ve played good all year. We needed a better presence in the post tonight and our rotations were a step slow.”
The Panthers’ struggles were quantified in rebounding, where Conway Springs held a 46-32 edge. Still, after falling behind by double digits, Independent scored the final nine points of the third quarter and first four of the fourth for a 46-43 lead.
“It was poor offensive execution and shooting too early,” Pearson said of the factors that led to Independent’s run. “We shot early twice and they made us pay in transition. That’s what they’re good at.”
Independent got 11 points from Connor Sevier (all in the first half) and Chris Taylor (all in the second half). But the Panthers never led after Leddy’s three-point play tied the score at 48 with 5:09 remaining. Conway Springs was efficient, making 8 of 11 field goals in the final quarter and 17 of 28 in the second half.
Leddy’s basket on a press break gave the Cardinals the lead for good at 52-50.
“We knew we could drive a little bit on them,” said Dugan, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds in the second half. “They are a great offensive team. We just had to get back on defense and play our hardest. It was big to stop their penetration.”
Conway Springs didn’t do it every time. But with Leddy, a 6-foot-8 center, clogging the middle, the Cardinals’ defense held Independent to 13-of-40 shooting after intermission.
Leddy finished with nine points and six rebounds after missing two days of practice due to illness.
“We know he’s a big asset,” Dugan said. “He just puts his arms up and people can’t shoot over him.”
And after starting the season 1-4, Conway Springs approaches the midpoint of the regular season in sync with its new coach.
“I think they’re starting to figure it out,” Pearson said. “At first it was, ‘Who is this guy? What are we doing?’ But now they’re starting to see the fruits of their labor.”
Independent – Chandler 10 Williams 8, Eikleberry 9, Sevier 11, Taylor 11, Brzon 6.
Conway Springs – Winter 9, Z. Barkley 6, Murphy 7, N. Barkley 8, Dugan 23, Bellar 1, Leddy 9.