PENDLETON — During the first week of practice in mid November, Pendleton boys basketball coach Kyle Tedder said he liked his new group of Buckaroos but described the team as a “project” and a “work-in-progress” due to a small number of varsity returners.
Through the first two weeks of the season, it’s easy to see what Tedder meant. Pendleton started its non-league schedule with three wins in four games, knocking off some quality teams including Crescent Valley and Baker. But now the team has lost two straight, most recently a 54-37 clunker to Walla Walla on in the Buckaroos’ home opener Friday evening at Warberg Court.
Pendleton started Friday’s game having the appearance of a team that was starting to jell together on the court. The offense had a good flow with ball movement all the way around the court, the passes were crisp, and the Bucks were consistently working into efficient shot attempts that resulted in easy points. The Buckaroos and Blue Devils traded leads and bursts of momentum throughout the first half, with Walla Walla holding a slim 29-28 lead at the break.
However, in the second half the Buckaroos came out looking like a completely different team. The smooth flow of the offense disappeared into a stagnant unit, where defensive adjustments by the Blue Devils led to less ball movement and more isolation attempts by the Bucks to find space to get shots off. Pendleton took a 33-30 lead with 6:17 left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Tyler Newsom, the only made three of the game for the Buckaroos, which was the last lead the Bucks would hold.
From that point on, Pendleton spent the next 8:18 of game time spanning the third and fourth quarters in a scoreless drought, that was ended by a pair of free throws from Ryan Russell with 5:59 left in the fourth that made it a 45-35 game. Pendleton scored a mere nine points in the second half and shot just 2-of-13 from the field, with the teams’ final two points coming on free throw makes from Dakota Sams and Kason Broncheau late in the game.
“(Walla Walla) made adjustments and we didn’t do very well adjusting to their adjustments,” said Pendleton assistant coach Ryan Sams. “They forced us into some bad shots ... we didn’t take care of the ball in the second half and we weren’t getting the good shots we were getting in the first half.”
Sams noted that the way the final 30 seconds of the second quarter played out was a big hit to the Buckaroos’ confidence and mindset when they came out for the second half.
Pendleton had just taken a 28-26 lead and held possession with 30 seconds left, with Sams dribbling out the clock and holding for the final shot of the half. However, a referee whistled Sams for a questionable five-second call — with the Walla Walla defender not in the range necessary to start the count — giving the Blue Devils the ball back with 6.7 seconds left. And at the buzzer, Walla Walla’s Dylan Sullivan sank a deep 3-pointer to instead put the Buckaroos behind at the half.
“Oh I think so,” Sams said of a momentum switch. “I thought we played a good first half, getting Tyler (Newsom) moving around on the block and getting him into positions on the wing for good shots. We played a sound first half but getting that turnover and letting them get a shot off was big.”
Newsom was the only Buckaroo in double figures with 15 points, though 10 of that came in the first half. The next highest scorer was Shaw Jerome with six. As a team, Pendleton shot just 1-of-13 from 3-point range, which continually built up frustration amongst the group as the game moved along, Sams said.
“I think it got to them when we were missing some 3s that we usually knocked down,” he said, “and it got (Walla Walla) into positions to run and get out and go.”
Pendleton will now have a few days to work out some bugs and get its project trajectory heading back in the right direction before Lewiston (ID) comes to town on Dec. 12 for a 7 p.m. tip.
MISSING TEDDER: Sams was acting head coach for Friday’s game for Pendleton, as Kyle Tedder was forced to sit it out after picking up a pair of technical fouls during the Buckaroos’ game against Southridge (WA) on Tuesday evening.
He is expected back on the bench for Pendleton’s game with Lewiston (ID) on Dec. 12.
WW 15 14 14 11 — 54
PHS 14 14 5 2 — 38
WALLA WALLA — D. Sullivan 12, T. Greene 12, P. Likes 9, T. Hamada 7, T. Swanson 6, J. Weigand 5.
PENDLETON — T. Newsom 15, S. Jerome 6, W. Camp 4, R. Scott 4, R. Russell 4, D. Sams 3, K. Broncheau 1.
3-pointers — WW 8, PHS 1. Free throws — WW 9-13, PHS 8-15. Fouls — WW 17, PHS 13.
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.