A rough week of practice carried over into Friday’s fist game back from break, Cliff McCullough said.

Despite its play, the Ottawa High School boys basketball team slipped by visiting Paola 39-36 at OHS, 1120 S. Ash St., Ottawa. It was the first game following more than three weeks off for winter break.

The Cyclones fell behind 19-18 at halftime, but ended the third quarter on a key 10-6 run that put them up 32-29 in the back-and-forth affair.

The message from McCullough, OHS head boys basketball coach, to his team after the game was simple, “We have to practice better,” he said.

“We had a couple really good practices over break and then we took a day off for New Years,” McCullough said. “We came back and we had four of the worst practices I’ve seen, especially with this group. The way we played this game in the first half is how we practiced — it just wasn’t good. I told them that we have to focus in practice. We have to have better leadership and we’ve got to practice at game speed. Clearly, the bad practices we had carried over. ”

Up 38-36 with 15 seconds left and just two team fouls, the Ottawa defense started fouling after Devion Bethea, senior guard, missed the front end of a one-and-one. A Paola inbound pass with six seconds left went over the head of the intended target and untouched out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Cyclones. Bethea was fouled with five seconds left, and went 1/2 from the free throw line to extend the lead to three. Bethea elevated over Paola’s Drew Smith, senior guard, for a big three-point shot block as time expired, sealing the win.

The battle down low between Ottawa’s Kobe Johnson, sophomore forward, and Paola’s Brandon Wilkes, senior forward, proved to be a big one. Johnson led all scorers with 17 points, while Wilkes led the Panthers with 15.

“Brandon is so aggressive,” McCullough said of one of Paola’s top players. “Everything he did tonight, we showed our kids on film, so it is not like they didn’t know it was coming. Everything he does, he has such a high motor. I don’t think our kids really understood that. Watching that on film is one thing, but to see it live is something else, and we just weren’t ready for him. We couldn’t defend him with one guy.”

Ottawa (5-1) plays Tuesday at Baldwin in Baldwin City.

Ottawa (39) — Kobe Johnson 17, Brown 11, Bethea 5, Shaffer 4.

Paola (36) — Wilkes 15, Smith 6, Richmond 5, Golubski 5, Phillips 3, Clark 2.