COLUMBIA — Jim Scanlon looked up at the sea of green at Mizzou Arena and felt a pang of guilt.
The sea was dishearteningly passive, and there didn't seem to be anything the Rock Bridge coach or his players could do about it.
Rock Bridge fell behind Troy Buchanan early in the Class 5 semifinals game and struggled to make a comeback when it missed both outside shots and simple put-backs. The crowd that drove a few miles up Providence Road never could exert itself in the Bruins' 57-45 loss.
"What hurts me is the fans that came to the game because we couldn’t even get them involved," Scanlon said. "We couldn't get any runs, we couldn't get anything on transition. I feel bad for the people that followed us because that wasn't us today."
Rock Bridge beat Troy 67-50 in the Spartans' own tournament on Dec. 10. Alumni from the 1999 Troy team that last made the semifinals reminded the current team of that loss when they visited practice on Wednesday.
But the players hadn't forgotten about that loss — or any other. All season the Spartans earned revenge against opponents that beat them before. After doing so against DeSmet in the quarterfinals last Saturday, Troy looked forward to ending Rock Bridge's season as well.
"This is the fifth team that we lost to earlier in the year and then came back to beat," Troy coach Ryan Meyers said. "(The players) are competitors, and you saw their effort out there tonight."
Rock Bridge guard Matt Kelly felt it. Every time the Bruins' best defensive player took on Neil Branham, his former AAU teammate and Troy's senior leader, Kelly had to deal with the barrel-chested Branham driving into him and finishing contested layups. Branham scored 20 points.
"I just felt like he played with a lot more heart than we did," Kelly said. "He’s strong and he can shoot, which makes it tough. He’s just a tough player."
It became discouraging for spectators, too, when they watched Branham keep scoring despite the defense's best efforts.
"They kept hitting shots in the first quarter and it kind of shell-shocked us," Scanlon said. "For a period there it seemed like they scored every time. Mentally, you're wondering what we had to do."
Rock Bridge trailed 26-13 at halftime, but fans had watched the Bruins play much better in the second half all season. When Rock Bridge scored eight straight points to start the second half, the sea of green started to rise.
But Troy called a timeout, and when play resumed Derek Deters, who led all scorers with 23 points, made a 3-pointer for the Spartans. Rock Bridge continued to struggle from behind the arc ending 2-16, and it missed multiple put-back layups.
The wasted opportunities quelled whatever excitement had built up.
"We had some chances to score around the basket, and if we had a 3-point play here or there that gets the crowd into it again," Scanlon said. "When you don't convert around the basket when you're behind and playing so poorly, everything is magnified. It lets the air out of you, and it lets the air out of the crowd."
Branham provided the punch that finally knocked the wind out of the crowd. With 3:30 left in the game and Rock Bridge still trailing by seven points, Branham got the ball standing wide open next to Troy's bench.
Meyers wanted him to prolong the possession and let the clock run down. Branham decided to shoot the 3-pointer.
"It was one of those where you say 'No! No! No!' then 'Yes!' at the end of it when it goes in," Meyers said. "He was still in attack mode, and whenever he gets an open look we’re pretty happy with the result."
Minutes later the crowd trailed out, and Scanlon was left to answer what had gone wrong.
"We haven’t played like that all year," Scanlon said. "The guys who scored for them were the same people we practiced for all week. Troy came out to play and took it to us. We didn't really have an answer for them."