LIBERTY — The second chair on the bench remained empty, the William Jewell College Cardinal logo glaring at the ceiling. Rock Bridge boys’ basketball coach Mark Scanlon finally sat down with four minutes to go in the game.
Before that, Scanlon paced in front of the bench with ferocious eyes, wanting his team to work like it was a one-point game. Rock Bridge won a vastly different game 77-29 over the Kearney Bulldogs on Tuesday in the first round of the William Jewell Holiday Tournament. The Bruins play the in the semifinals against the winner of the Cameron vs. William Chrisman game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Scanlon crouched down in front of his team during a timeout in the fourth quarter, arms moving, head turning side-to-side and his mouth never stopped moving.
“We have to keep working and improving on our weaknesses,” Scanlon said was the approach he took. “We can’t make bad habits, and we have guys who want to play.”
The result was never in question. Rock Bridge (8-1) led 19-5 after the first quarter and 40-13 at halftime. But coaching in a game that resembles a pee-wee football team against the New York Giants makes it hard to focus on improvement.
“I went in at halftime and told the kids ‘this is like a brand new game, treat it like its 0-0,’” Scanlon said. “You have to play hard in respect to the other team.”
The Bruins came out of their first-half fullcourt press in the second half and backed down to a halfcourt defense, but Scanlon wasn’t going to allow this to turn into a sloppy game.
“Get ready,” Scanlon yelled to his players on defense. “Push it, good, good.”
Scanlon yelled in the third quarter as his team ran a fast break resulting in an easy layup.
“Coach really preached in halftime to work on our transition game and our defense,” senior Alex Austin said.
The Rock Bridge defense worked hard all game, forcing 26 turnovers. Kearney (0-8) might have been motivated by the tournament record for lowest points scored by a team, but the Bulldogs scored their 29th point with under two minutes to go to surpass the mark by two.
Kearney coach Gary Belcher was challenged, too.
“In a game like this you really have to look at what the other team is doing so well, and have your team learn lessons from it and hope one day your team can do the same things that they do so well,” Belcher said. “We try to emphasize the positives and learn from all our mistakes.”