By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
SALADO – Starting off facing two-time state champion Brock in the Coach Smith Memorial basketball tournament, Salado boys coach Kenny Mann knew his young team was going to have to step up if they were going to have any sort of chance in pool play.
Unfortunately, shooting a paltry 17-of-45 from the field, including 6-of-17 from three-point range, while also surrendering 25 turnovers wasn't what Mann had in mind as the host Eagles were routed 57-47 on Thursday.
"We're actually getting better, but it didn't show up tonight because Brock made us not show up as well," Mann said. "... Sometimes we forced some shots because we got a little impatient and we felt like we weren't getting open opportunities quick enough."
Bringing in teams like Brock, which is 10-1, along with state-ranked Liberty Hill of 3A and Austin St. Michaels of TAPPS, Mann wanted to make sure his boys saw some stiff competition.
"We don't bring in lightweight teams," Mann said. "We could host a tournament that we could win if we wanted to, ... or we could bring Austin Travis, Liberty Hill, Brock and teams like that where we may not win, but come district time when we face some stiff competition, and we'll feel a lot better going into district."
Struggling out of the gate, Salado (5-4) started sloppy, turning the ball over on their first three possessions and finishing the first quarter with nine turnovers. Salado made just two of its first nine attempts and trailed 14-6 before post Caleb Little, the team's lone senior, scored with 11 seconds left in the period on a putback opportunity.
"Turnovers have been a problem for us still being a young team, so we're still trying to work ourselves out of that," Mann said. "And of course tonight playing a team like Brock, you're going to have some turnovers, even if you're not a young team, and of course, with us being a young team, it was even worse."
Salado was able to keep pace in the second quarter, trailing just 23-18 at the break, but coming out of halftime, the shooting woes continued.
After answering Brock shot-for-shot early in the third, Salado missed its final five attempts and Brock closed out the final 4:22 of the quarter on an 8-0 run to pull away 38-25.
"That hurt us right there, we went a little cold and there were three trips where we turned the ball over trying to force it in," Mann said. "... We tried to force a few bad passes and those (turnovers) turned into points for them on the other end. That was huge right there."
From there, Brock began to pull away, opening the fourth quarter on a 7-2 run that was aided by three consecutive turnovers by Salado as Brock stretched its lead to a game-high 17 points two minutes into the frame.
Salado rebounded by closing out the quarter with 19 points over the final 4:30, but forced to the foul line, Brock made seven of its final eight free throws to seal the victory.
Salado was led by junior Braxton Tucker with 16 points.