It’s been a rough season for the Ottumwa boys basketball team.
The Bulldogs (2-19, 1-11) have suffered their share of lopsided defeats while picking up a couple of dramatic victories along the way. But all that is inconsequential now — a fading image in the rearview mirror.
“It’s a tournament game, and the records are out the window,” Ottumwa coach Chris Gravett said. “We know what we have to do to win and we just have to go out there and execute.”
The Bulldogs will kick off postseason play tonight when they travel to Cedar Rapids to take on Cedar Rapids Jefferson in the regional quarterfinals of the Class 4A Substate 6 basketball tournament.
The J-Hawks ended their regular season with a respectable 11-10 record. The only common opponent Jefferson shared with the Bulldogs was Cedar Rapids Xavier. Judging solely by the two team’s sharply diverging results against Xavier, the J-Hawks enter the contest as the heavy favorites. Jefferson prevailed over the then 10th-ranked Saints 64-55 on their home floor, but they suffered a 51-41 loss at Xavier in the two team’s rematch. The J-Hawks junior point guard Jacob Olson’s 22-points catapulted his team to victory in its first encounter with the Saints.
Meanwhile, Ottumwa suffered a lopsided 63-33 defeat to Xavier in the two teams’ only meeting. Carter Burns led Ottumwa with 12 points.
“They [Jefferson] shoot about 40 percent from 3-point range and 75 percent from the free-throw line,” Gravett said. “We have to keep them out of the middle so they don’t get middle penetration and kick it out for 3s.
“We really need to take care of the basketball, we can’t turn it over. We have work the ball around and make sure to make these guys play some defense.”
Olson is at the vanguard of Jefferson’s offensive exploits, as he has averaged about 15 points per game most of the season. The J-Hawk point guard’s statistics paint a picture of a well-rounded athlete who can hurt opposing teams in a myriad of ways. leading his team in assists and steals.
The J-Hawks’ No. 2 option on offense is senior Ky Kramer, who averages 13.3 points a game and is an expert at getting to the foul line — he’s taken over 80 free throws — and he boasts a team-best free-throw shooting percentage of 86.4 percent. He also leads Jefferson with 5.1 rebounds a game.
Creighton Robinson is Jefferson’s most dangerous threat from beyond the arc. Robinson, who averages about 10 points a game, shoots about 41 percent from the 3-point line. Clogging up the middle and making it tough for opposing teams to score inside the paint is Jefferson’s Jake Van Oort. Standing 6-foot-4, the J-Hawks big man leads his team with 14 blocks.
Van Oort will likely be tapped to guard Burns, who leads Ottumwa in scoring average with about 15 points a game. Burns, the versatile 6-foot-6 sophomore with a soft touch and surprising range, must continue to be the linchpin of Ottumwa’s offense. Burns’s multi-faceted offensive repertoire has perplexed opposing defenses and allowed Ottumwa’s star big man to shoot about 49 percent from the field. Of course, his scoring opportunities are made easier and more abundant when his teammates are able to knock down a few 3-pointers, because this forces Ottumwa’s opponents to step out and actively contest the shots. When the Bulldogs can’t find the range from beyond the arc, the opposing team’s guards don’t have to stray too far from the lane, which allows them to collapse down and double team Burns whenever he catches the ball in the post.
When Burns is on, he’s extremely hard to stop. In Ottumwa’s two victories, he’s averaged over 25 points. In addition, he’s a solid free-throw shooter — he shoots about 80 percent from the line. Burns averages about 8 rebounds per game and he serves as a strong deterrent for guards looking to attack the basket with his team-high 15 blocks.
Senior Austin Walker has emerged as one of Ottumwa’s most consistent scorers. He averages about 10 points a game and he’s one of the Bulldogs leading 3-point shooters. His 19 points against Fairfield helped propel Ottumwa to a dramatic overtime victory last Tuesday on Senior Night. Equipped with a keen sense of timing on defense, Walker leads the Bulldogs with 19 steals.
Andrew Altfillisch has begun to come on as of late. Altfillisch’s season got off to strong start before it was undermined by a right ankle injury that sidelined him for a couple of games and forced him to play at less than 100 percent. Altfillisch, who specializes in graceful drives to the bucket, knocked down a huge 3-pointer to help Ottumwa top the Trojans in overtime. Brok Hopwood has often provided the Bulldogs with an extra injection of energy at vital times. The fiery sophomore guard has done an expert job of getting the ball to Ottumwa’s big guys down in the block while also blossoming into one of Ottumwa’s most accurate 3-point shooters. Quality performances out of Altfillisch and Hopwood would greatly enhance Ottumwa’s chances of pulling an upset. The Bulldogs may also need to get a solid outing out of senior Kyle Keck, whose proven he’s capable of scoring in the double digits.
If the Bulldogs win tonight, they will play at Burlington Friday in the regional semifinals.