The Ottumwa boys basketball team played what was perhaps its best first half all season Monday against Mount Pleasant at Evans Middle School.
Unfortunately, their are two halves in the game of basketball and the Bulldogs’ second half performance was the exact opposite of the first.
The result? A 66-35 loss to the Panthers. In addition, the contest featured a triumphant return by former Bulldog star Faith Pope — Pope, who dropped a game-high 23 points on his former team, left Ottumwa to play for Mount Pleasant this season.
“We came in with high intensity but our coach told us to not just worry about Faith and just too worry about Mount Pleasant and that’s what we did [in the first half]” Ottumwa’s Brok Hopwood said. “We played really good and then we got caught up in ourselves and just choked.”
Ottumwa went into the third quarter with a 26-25 lead and the momentum on its side. But the that momentum came to an abrupt halt with about five minutes left in the quarter — two minutes after Carter Burns was taken out of the game after picking up his fourth foul.
A Pope-fueled offensive spurt by the Panthers had already turned Ottumwa’s one-point halftime lead into a 36-30 deficit when the Bulldog offense got stuck in a prolonged slump that effectively squelched any chances of them pulling the upset.
Pope finished a Panther fast-break with a alley-oop dunk that extended his team’s lead to 38-30. Moments later, Mount Pleasant’s Brant Shelman drilled a three-pointer that gave the Panthers their first double-digit lead of the contest at 41-30. By the end of the third quarter, Mount Pleasant had extended its lead to 45-30.
Ottumwa’s offense remained non-existent to start the fourth quarter and the Panthers’ lead continued to grow. Meanwhile, there might as well have been an invisible lid on Ottumwa’s basket because the Bulldogs couldn’t get anything to fall. Brok Hopwood finally ended Ottumwa’s long dry spell with a three-pointer, but the Bulldogs still trailed 57-33.
Things got a little chippy in the game’s final minutes. Ottumwa coach Chris Gravett was whistled for a technical foul and Ottumwa’s Charlie Altfillisch and the Panthers’ Connor Shull were hit with a double-technical foul. The Panthers went on to pick up the easy victory.
“When he [Burns] went out they went on a little bit of a run there and went up by seven or eight points and then it became personal,” Gravett said. “It became personal with Faith Pope instead of us against Mount Pleasant, which it was in the first half. And then it became kind of chippy, and I knew it would at some time, but we didn’t handle it well.”
The Bulldogs shined on both ends of the court in the first half. Mount Pleasant raced out to a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes before Burns got Ottumwa on the scoreboard with a bucket inside. A few minutes later, Austin Walker drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing that cut the Panther lead to 7-5. Then Burns buried a 3-pointer that gave Ottumwa its first lead of the game at 8-7. Pope responded by draining a 3-pointer from the right wing to recapture the lead for his team.
Andrew Altfillisch scored on a pretty drive down the lane to start the second quarter. Moments later, Walker tied the game at 15 with a 3-pointer. Then Walker sank a pair of free throws to give his team a 17-15 lead after he got fouled on a possession where he grabbed three-straight rebounds.
Pope swooped into lane for a layup, which tied the game at 17; but Walker answered with a bucket inside. The game continued to go back-and-forth for the rest of the quarter. Chris Peden missed a layup inside, but he managed to get his own rebound and stick it back in to give his team a 26-25 lead at the end of the half.
“We really came out ready to play,” Ottumwa’s Kyle Keck said about his team’s first-half performance.
“I thought our guys played an unbelievable first half and then in the second half we just obviously self-destructed,” Gravett said.
Ottumwa (1-15, 1-9) plays at Ames Tuesday.
Mount Pleasant 66, Ottumwa 35
Moun 14 11 20 21 — 66
Ottu 10 16 4 5 — 35
Ottumwa (66) — Carter Burns 7, Austin Walker 10, Kyle Keck 2, Andrew Altfillisch 5, Brok Hopwood 5, Curtis Schneckloth 2, Chris Peden 2. Totals 11 FG 4-9 FT 35. 3-point goals — 4 (Walker 2). Fouled out — C. Altfillisch. Total fouls — 24.
Mount Pleasant (35) — Faith Pope 23, Logan Mulford 2, Connor Shull 2, Trey Magnani 2, Cameron Frank 6, Brant Shelman 5, Zach Mulford 4, Ryan Hanna 10. Totals 21 FG 9-20 FT 35. Fouled out — C. Shull. Total fouls — 16.