GOODLAND — The Ottawa High School girls basketball team met up with a talented athletic squad in McCook, Neb., Saturday in the championship game of the Topside Tip-Off Tournament in Goodland.
Ottawa was playing in its fifth straight Topside tourney title game, while McCook had not advanced to the championship game since beating Ottawa in 2003. McCook played in the consolation game the previous two years.
The Bison forced 19 turnovers, crashed the boards and held Ottawa to 29 percent shooting. Ottawa could not overcome those areas and fell 59-52.
“We got to get better against athletic teams,” McCullough said. “We knew they would push us. They mirrored us. They did a better job rebounding. We let them get way too many second-chance opportunities.
“They sped us up. We panicked. We made decisions we had not made in three games. That is all part of the growing process.”
Ottawa returned two starters from last year’s tourney title team. Some of that inexperience showed in the championship game.
The Bison put Ottawa on its heels with their defensive pressure.
“It was everything,” McCullough said. “We could not get into our offense at times. They took us out of our comfort zone. We made a lot of mistakes.”
Ottawa went through offensive lulls, but still fought back and was within striking distance until late.
A big turning point came with 3:25 left in the game when Ottawa missed two free throws McCook came down and drilled a wide open trey to go up 51-44.
McCullough said giving up the open basket is something that should not have happened.
“Our defense is good enough [not to give that up],” he said. “We had a lot of breakdowns defensively. We don’t give up backside [offensive] rebounds. We were out of position. We were doing things we normally don’t do.”
Part of that was the Bison’s play and attitude.
“They were very motivated to win this thing,” McCullough said. “They took that kind of attitude toward it.”
The coach liked how the Cyclones kept charging back.
“We needed to battle from behind because we have not been behind this year,” McCullough said. “We did a pretty good job. We were down 7, 8, 9 and got it back to a tie game. This could have been a 20-point blowout.”
Ottawa exerted a lot of energy in making those rallies and playing in three straight days.
“There is no turnaround time,” McCullough said. “You have to learn things on the fly. It wears you down mentally and physically.
“Then you have to come out and perform in a championship game against a team like this. We have to work on our conditioning.”
McCook overcame a slow start, rebounding from a 6-0 deficit. The Bison tied the game at 13-13 with a steal and a bucket to end the first quarter.
Ottawa gave up a 6-0 run as the Bison snapped a 20-20 tie for a 26-20 lead. Alexis Roecker’s four free throws in the final minute of the half drew Ottawa within 30-28 at halftime.
McCook opened the second half with a 7-2 spurt to open a 37-30 lead. Ottawa tied it at 39-39 on Tyra Lyday’s trey late in the third quarter.
The Bison scored seven straight points to bolt to a 46-39 lead with 5:21 left in the game.
Ottawa was led by senior all-tournament selection Lyday with 18 points. Corie Fischer, who was an all-tourney selection, and Roecker tossed in nine each.
McCullough hopes the loss inspires the players.
“It is going to hurt to lose,” he said. “It means something to them.”
Ottawa (3-1) plays 6 p.m. Friday at De Soto.
McCook (59) — Goltl 2, Ruppert 12, Gillen 6, Trew 16, Chitwood 5, Sughroue 4, Leiss 7, Daum 6.
Ottawa (52) — Lyday 18, Bones 2, Roecker 9, K. Fischer 5, C. Fischer 9, Lewis 4, Moore 5.