Kylan Pickren called an audible and called his own number Wednesday.
Adapting on the fly, Pickren delivered one of the more pivotal buckets and later added what proved to be two game-winning free throws in Ozark’s 62-60 COC triumph against Carthage.
Pickren tied the score at 56 on a layup with 1:25 remaining, after Carthage had been up by four only :30 earlier. Out of a timeout, he received an in-bounds pass and promptly beat his defender to the paint and banked in a layup.
Thing is, that wasn’t the plan.
“That play was actually for Jace (Whatley). But Kylan made a decision, which he is free to do,” coach Mark Schweitzer said. “We encourage our kids to read and react. We were running a play to get it to Jace on a high-low look or get Hudson (Roberts) on some sort of action on the weak side, if they were helping too much. On his initial cut, Kylan felt like he could take his man baseline and he did.”
“We had ran (the play to Whatley) two times before that and the first time Jace was covered and the second time I thought I could have had a lane, but I hesitated,” Pickren said. ”Once I got the ball the last time, I saw a lane and put my head down, took off and tried to get a bucket. We needed one. It worked out.”
It obviously speaks volumes of the trust Schweitzer has in Pickren, as a freshman mind you, to allow him to ad-lib.
“I'm glad they all have trust in me to go make a play in that situation,” Pickren said. “I knew I could do it. I have confidence in myself, they have confidence in me. I made it happen.”
With :05 remaining, Pickren made two free throws to put Ozark up 62-59 and cap his 23-point night.
“I knew if I made them we had a good chance of winning,” Pickren said. “I wasn't paying attention to the crowd or anything else. I took a deep breath, focused and hit them both.”
Carthage had a chance to force overtime when Justin Ray was fouled on a 3-point try from about five feet inside the half-court line with :1.5 left. He made the first free throw, missed the second and missed the third on purpose. On the rebound, two Carthage players had the ball in their reach as the buzzer sounded.
It’s worth noting there still should have been time on the clock at that point. With :10.2 to play, Roberts was fouled, but the clock continued to run until it was finally stopped with :7.7 were left. The error was seemingly obvious to everyone in the gym, but the officials let the time stand at :7.7.
One would also be remiss no to document at the :50 mark Carthage's Jack Ryder was on his way to a breakaway layup when Whatley and Phin Scott caught up to him. Whatley blocked Ryder's shot and the officials called for a jump ball, overriding the contact Scott made with Ryder.
Carthage (13-7 overall and 3-2 in the COC) led by as much as 11, 39-28, as Ray was hot from 3-point land from the get-go. He finished with six treys and 26 points.
Ozark rallied on the strength of five offensive rebounds and 11 points in the third quarter by Whatley. He ended the night with six offensive boards among his eight rebounds.
Whatley had just one rebound in the first half. Also, he had only five points at halftime, but wound up with 20.
“(Schweitzer) lit me up in the locker room. That lit the fire,” Whatley said. “That’s what I respond to, a good ol' yelling. I came out and got lots of offensive rebounds and also got opportunities to score by my teammates hitting me.”
With Whatley providing second-chance points en masse, Ozark went on a 17-3 run to take a 45-42 lead.
Ozark was able to get the ball where it needed to when it needed to, despite committing 16 turnovers.
Pickren and Whatley have joined Roberts as consistent double-figure scorers over the past month, giving Ozark a ‘Big Three.’ With Roberts scoring 17 points, the ‘Big Three’ combined for 60 of Ozark’s 62 points.
Pickren was 9-of-15 from the field, while Roberts was 6-of-10. They both had a trio of 3s.
After downing Branson 65-42 Tuesday, Ozark (8-13 overall and 3-1 in the COC) has its first winning streak on the season entering Friday’s home game against Neosho (5-14 and 0-4).
“We're better than we were two, four weeks ago. We probably would have lost this game a month ago,” Schweitzer said. “We made some clutch plays. We've had a lot to work through, but we’re starting to come together.”