Trailing by 23 points at halftime to St. James Tuesday in the first round of the Hermann Invitational, Warrenton Head Coach Mike Uffmann’s message to his team was simple. He told them they could …
Trailing by 23 points at halftime to St. James Tuesday in the first round of the Hermann Invitational, Warrenton Head Coach Mike Uffmann’s message to his team was simple.
He told them they could finish up an embarrassing loss and head to the consolations bracket, or they could put together a comeback they would talk about for years to come.
His players chose the latter.
The Warriors stormed back from a 34-7 first-half deficit to beat St. James 59-55, and advance to face No. 1 seed Montgomery County Thursday in the second round.
“We really focused on our attitude, concentration and effort at halftime,” Uffmann said. “Those are the things we can control, and we didn’t control those in the first half.”
The St. James defense hugged the paint in the first half, keeping a close eye on Warrenton forwards Caleb Strauss and Trevor Alberternst.
Warrenton couldn’t respond offensively and Strauss finished the game scoreless.
The Tigers scored at will in the first half and Warrenton seemed destined to extend its losing streak to six games.
Then Randy McRoberts connected on a corner 3-pointer to open the second half, and everything changed.
“That might have been the play of the game right there,” Uffmann said.
McRoberts scored two minutes later to cut the deficit to 38-22.
Warrenton began trapping St. James near halfcourt, and the deficit was cut to 15 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Warrenton players, coaches and fans were not pleased with the officiating, and made their displeasures known during the comeback.
“It felt like there was a new piece of adversity thrown at us every time, whether it was a player fouling out or just missing out on a 50-50 ball,” Uffmann said. “And somehow, it felt like we got more momentum off those plays.”
Warrenton guards sped the game up while St. James began milking the clock in the fourth quarter.
Uffmann wasn’t surprised by the tactic, but said he was worried about his players getting tight as the clock wound down.
Led by McRoberts and Brenden Smith, the Warrenton guards led the final comeback with steals, layups and free throws.
“We had a lot of urgency, and I thought that was key,” Smith said. “We got fired up too, and I think that’s what won it. Defense wins championships, and our defense won it for us tonight.”
Smith finished with 10 points, three assists and three steals.
With its 23-point halftime deficit cut to one, Jake Tonioli finished the comeback with a layup and free throw with one minute remaining.
“We knew if we sat back and felt sorry for ourselves, we’d be playing in the consolation bracket, and we didn’t want that,” Uffmann said.
With the five-game losing streak buried, the Warriors will look for their first winning streak of the season Thursday against No. 1 Montgomery County.
“I like our chances,” Uffmann said. “We’ll go in and put a game-plan in Wednesday, and I think our boys will be excited to get back on the court. We could probably go practice when we get home if we had to, we are pretty fired up right now.”
Jake Tonioli finishes a layup to give the Warriors a 52-50 lead in the final moments of Tuesday's win over St. James.Kory Carpenter photo