By Steve Gunn
The Reeths-Puffer boys basketball team has those type of big guys, and they made all the difference on Tuesday in the Rockets’ season-opening 65-58 victory over Wyoming in the season opener for both O-K Green conference teams.
A0fter the super long layoff while the season was delayed due to COVID, and only one full-contact practice before the game, nobody expected either team to be very sharp.
The Rockets certainly had their ugly moments with cold shooting and turnovers all night. They converted 26 of 67 shots from the floor and coughed the ball up 15 times.
But a lot of their buckets came on putbacks by the big guys after offensive rebounds. And Wyoming had an even worse shooting game, with 11 fewer attempts, because the Rockets’ big guys were always in the way.
The Wolves made 21 of 56 shots while they struggled to get the ball high enough to avoid the outstretched arms of the long Rocket defenders.
Kendall Smith, a 6-8 senior, did much of the crucial work in the paint for Reeths-Puffer, blocking five shots and snagging 10 rebounds to go with his 11 points. Travis Ambrose, a 6-7 freshman, had six rebounds and two blocks to go with his 12 points.
“I thought Kendall Smith was huge around the rim,” said Reeths-Puffer Coach Lance Johnson, who has three players on the roster who stand at least 6-7. “Our staff said he had five blocks, but he probably changed 10 other shots. In the second half some of those blocks got us going in transition for layups and threes and kind of broke the game open. Our size, length and athleticism definitely helped us out.”
The Rockets also put future opponents on notice that they won’t be able to key on one big scorer, because Reeths-Puffer has numerous players who can put the ball in the net.
Senior point guard Kaleb Mitchelson led the way with 18 points, Smith added 11, Jaxson Whitaker had eight, and Logan Brooks chipped in seven.
Wyoming’s Ramere Draper led all scorers with 27 points.
“Kaleb Mitchelson and Kendall Smith will be our go-to players, but we have a lot of other guys who can step up and make shots and make plays for others,” Johnson said. “I think we will have a nice team with two senior leaders. We’ll see what happens.”
The Rockets started out cold, missing 7 of their 10 field goal attempts, and fell behind 13-7 midway through the first quarter. But they closed out the quarter with a 12-0 run and led 19-13 at the first buzzer. Mitchelson led the way with seven points.
Reeths-Puffer made only four buckets in the second quarter, and Wyoming was able to tie the score at 23-23, then pull ahead 27-23 with 1:31 left in the first half. But the Rockets ended with an 8-1 run, sparked by a layup and two free throws by Mitchelson, and led 31-28 at halftime.
The Rockets opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run, led by triples from Coby Mitchelson and Whitaker, and led 41-30 at the midway point. Wyoming crept back to within five points at 41-36, then Reeths-Puffer had another burst, this time an 11-2 run, and led 51-38 at the third buzzer.
Reeths-Puffer extended the lead to 63-44 with 2:47 remaining, before Wyoming made a late push to close within seven points before the clock ran out.
“Any time you can come out with a win in this crazy season, we’re happy,” Johnson said. “At the end we got a little sloppy. We subbed and they didn’t, and that let them come back a little bit, but that’s OK. We’ll learn from that, too.”