Cyclones overcome COVID-19 issues to down Atchison

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald

Basketball players need tIme on the court to develop. Teams need time together to find an identity and grow chemistry.

    The pandemic is taking away those opportunities across the nation. It is hitting home with the Ottawa High School boys basketball team, which returned one player with varsity experience.

    “We knew they were green coming in,” Ottawa coach Cliff McCullough said. “These guys are really green. This is the type of team we need to have in the gym practicing. We are not getting [that time] because of the whole COVID-19 thing. It is really hurting these guys.”

Ottawa High School senior Jose Richards applies pressure to Atchison’s Nehemiah Rowley. OHS coach Cliff McCullough said the Cyclones took strides forward in their man defense.
Ottawa High School sophomore Jake Titus, surrounded by Atchison defenders, gets off a shot in the lane. Ottawa defeated Atchison, 55-42, to record the first win of the season.

    The team went into isolation last week because of the pandemic and had Friday’s game postponed. MCullough said the team had one day in the gym to prepare for Atchison.

    The Cyclones showed resiliency and moxie in downing Atchison, 55-42, Tuesday in the OHS gym.

    “Give them credit,” McCullough said. “They came out and they try so hard. It is not easy to play for me because I am pretty demanding. They are taking it like champs.

    “We did not spend a lot of time on zone defense because we knew Shawnee Heights and Piper were man teams. When we got back from our isolation, we had one day to go over all our zone stuff. They did a pretty good job. They set in zone 99 percent of the game. We put 55 points up on the board. Give these guys a ton of credit for coming out and executing the best they could on one day of practice.”

    McCullough liked how the team grew defensively from the opener with just Zoom meetings and a day of practice.

    “Defensively, we are trying to find our identity because we are not very good in man,” McCullough said. “One thing we were able to do in our isolation is I had zoom calls with them as a team and we watched film just like we were in a classroom. They could see what they did wrong. I saw improvement on some things I wanted them to work on from the Piper game on our man defense.”

    McCullough went to a 3-2 zone, hoping to stop Atchison’s penetration.

    “I thought that might put them in the gaps, so they would not have to think as much about taking away penetration,” McCullough said. “Then we let a guy go right down the middle of the lane. We went back to man in the second half.”

    It worked as Atchison had a tougher time scoring as Ottawa built a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter.

    Senior Tucker Baldwin was one of those players that grew defensively.

    “We talked to him about attacking [defensively],” McCullough said. “Tucker did an awesome job of attacking. He was 180 degrees different than he was against Piper. That tells me he is coachable.”

    The pandemic gave opportunities for players to play bigger roles. Ottawa suited up just nine players.

    McCullough said Andrew White and Austin Nitcher took full advantage of their opportunity.

    “[White] knocked down a three,” McCullough said. “He got thrown into the fire. We get into foul trouble and had to play a lot more minutes than I had anticipated.”

    Nitcher filled in for starter Brady Beets, who had to sit because of COVID-19 concerns.

    “Austin Nitcher had to jump in,” McCullough said. “We slowed him down and he did a great job of running our offense. He is gaining valuable experience. We are going to have to call on guys to do that all season long.”

    McCullough said time is what is needed for the players to grow into a good high school team.

    “We need some practice time,” he said. “We need our whole team. They have not played it at this level, this speed. It is going to take some time.”

    Junior Noah McCullough led Ottawa with 19 points. Baldwin tossed in 11 and Jose Richards had seven.

    Ottawa (1-1) plays Friday at Paola.