Combine good shooting – including 28-of-36 free-throw shooting – and usual tough defense to win 70-56 at Marshall Friday, Feb. 16, and reach 20-wins level for first time since 2003-04

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
MARSHALL, Mo. — As Chillicothe High School boys’ basketball head coach Tim Cool, his assistants, and a few players milled about the Marshall High School gym floor 15 minutes after the Hornets’ milestone 20th victory of the 2017-18 season came via a 70-56 triumph over the host Owls, there was a mirthfully-cynical sense they might be running a risk.
Scoring 70 points for the first time this season and topping 60 for only the third time in their last 20 outings, might not someone suggest a drug test was warranted to see what had gotten into the Hornets?
The cause was far from synthetic, however. They’d tallied that often not with a flurry of field goals – though they did demonstrate some of their best overall shooting from the floor in a while, but  because they’d capitalized on Marshall’s time-stretching strategy which turned the game’s last frame into a lead-lengthening free-throw fiesta.
Ahead 42-41 with just over nine minutes of regulation time remaining, the Hornets (20-4) out-pointed the Owls 28-15 in that closing stretch, converting 13 of 16 foul shots as part of an excellent 28-of-36 (78 percent) performance at the stripe in the game.
“That’s really good,” Cool lauded his team’s free-throw acumen this night. “… Twenty-eight free throws is a lot.”
In reaching the 20-wins plateau in 2017-18, the Hornets ended a 14-years famine for the program in that regard.
“I’m really happy for them on that 20 wins,” Cool stated. “… They’ve been ready to play every time they’ve stepped out there. … We’ve got a bunch of competitive guys who know how to prepare for games. They know how to focus for games.”
While Chillicothe sealed the deal at the charity stripe – and had itself in position for the chance to do that with its less-obvious work there in the first 23 minutes, the spurt which largely forced Marshall (9-11), which entered on a 4-games win streak, into its fouling frenzy in the last six minutes largely came from scoring the ball from both short and long range.
Having unknotted the contest’s last of six ties at 42-39 on Westley Brandsgaard’s three-points play off fellow sophomore C.J. Pfaff’s setup with 2:35 to go in the third period, Cool’s club netted six points in the final 66 ticks of that frame’s clock and three more in the first 15 seconds of the fourth stanza in uninterrupted succession.
Adler Marshall began it with a right-side lay-in off Jack Willard’s bounce pass on the press break and Jonathan Burk converted Bransgaard’s lead feed about 40 seconds later. Then, after the hosts failed to score on three shots, CHS’ Marshall rebounded and was fouled 85 feet from the CHS hoop with three seconds left in the period.
Shooting the “bonus,” the gritty Hornets senior netted both attempts, expanding Chillicothe’s cushion to 48-41 going to the last period, which would begin with the Hornets again in possession of the ball.
CHS turned that possession into a double-digits cushion when Brandsgaard accepted Walker Graves’ high-post pass on the right wing and triggered a 3-ball which tickled the twine at the 7:45 mark.
Scoring at least two points on four-straight possessions in a mere 81 seconds, the Hornets had transformed a 1-point edge which exemplified a closely-contested first 23 minutes into a mounting margin of 10 points.
After that, a game which had seen neither side ahead by more than three tallies and five deadlocks in the first half and, at most, a fleeting 6-points Chillicothe lead early in the third period when CHS’ Konner Sewell drained a trey was never closer than seven. The Hornets stretched their advantage to as much as 15 points before Sewell’s last two of six charity tosses without a miss on the night settled the final gap at 14.
“They wanted to press and run, press and run, and I thought we controlled the tempo,” summarized Cool.
“… Defensively, we were solid all night long.”
Marshall’s “run-and-gun” proclivity mixed with the Hornets’ free-throw facility and CHS’ recently-rejuvenated long-range marksmanship to produce the guests’ rare offensive outburst.
With a pair each from Willard and Brandsgaard, CHS rang the bell from 3-point distance a half-dozen times for a second game in a row and made a very good 40 percent of its trifecta tries for a third consecutive contest.
Meshed with Brandsgaard’s second 10-of-10 foul-line flawlessness in the last three games amid the team’s overall efficiency at the stripe and Marshall’s quick-trigger attack, there were possessions a-plenty and Chillicothe – aside from one first-half stretch in which it scored only on Graves’ right-block power drive in a span of over six minutes – capitalized.
Statistically, Brandsgaard – seemingly fully emerged from his mid-to-late-January shooting and scoring slump – riddled Marshall for a game-best 24 tallies, the talented, hard-working 6’3” sophomore’s second-largest output of the season.
Joining him in dual digits in scoring were Graves, who double-doubled with 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Willard with 12 counters. Sewell missed joining that trio by a whisker with nine and led the club with a pair of steals.
In addition to his game-most scoring total, Brandsgaard also provided a half-dozen rebounds and team-leading four assists.
Marshall’s scoring was topped by sophomore guard Jace Vance’s 17 points and junior Jalen Varner’s 16.
With one regular-season game remaining – Tuesday night’s “Senior Night” home varsity doubleheader against Cameron and then at least one district-tournament game the following week, there’s potential for CHS’ wins total to climb.
If it reaches 22, it would the Hornets’ most since 1997-98 when they were state runnersup in Class 3 with a 30-2 mark.
Of the challenge Cameron will present, Cool related, “They’ve had a good year. … From last year to this year, … all five of their starters made a big jump in improvement and it just made them a way-better team.”