Oak Ridge coach Adam Stoneking had a little chat with junior guard Andrew Puchbauer before practice Wednesday afternoon.
Stoneking wanted his guard to be more aggressive and to become the scorer he was a year ago for the Blue Jays' junior varsity team.
"You know, last year on the JV level he averaged 23-24 points a game," Stoneking said. "He really led us in scoring and was so aggressive on the offense end. This year he has kind of sat back and only wants to take an open shot and defers to everyone else. We had a big talk yesterday before practice and I told him, 'You are still that player, that player is still there. Just because you are playing on varsity doesn't mean you can't go out there and dominate on the offense end.' I told him that's the guy I want to see out there, and if I don't see it you aren't going to play."
Message sent. Message received.
Puchbauer scored all 15 of his points in the second half, leading host Oak Ridge to a 63-47 win over Zalma in the third-place contest at the Mississippi Valley Conference Tournament on Thursday night.
"He pretty much told me I need to get in gear," Puchbauer said about the talk. "It's pretty much the same thing, it's maybe just a little jump up to varsity and you still have that ability."
The junior did not record a point until 2 minutes, 43 seconds remained in the third quarter.
The Blue Jays (16-6) had seen their 33-21 halftime lead evaporate into a 35-35 tie thanks to a 14-2 run by Zalma (4-13).
Then Puchbauer showed the offensive prowess that made him a force at the junior varsity level.
The junior buried a 3-pointer to grab a 38-35 lead, then answered a Zalma free throw with another trey. Zalma retaliated with five quick points to close the quarter in a 41-41 deadlock.
"He came out, especially in the second half when we needed him and just really put it to them," Stoneking said. "He has that ability."
Puchbauer put the game way in the fourth.
He continued his hot shooting by opening the quarter with a 3-pointer, a free-throw, and another triple to vault the Blue Jays into a 48-41 lead they would never relinquish.
"I wasn't shooting very good in warm ups but somehow I came up and I was just really stroking the ball and felt really good out there," Puchbauer said. "I don't know, something just clicked in me and said you just have to start shooting, nothing else was working so just try to go."
The Blue Jays were once again without star player Ryan Below, who rolled his ankle against Kelly in a recent matchup and has not touched the court since.
Puchbauer and Lance Rohde more than made up for his absence.
Rohde, a 6-foot-1 senior, had a game-high 20 points, most coming within two-feet of the basket.
"Well, you know, we came out without Ryan so me and Corvin [Schoen] were going to fill in his shoes," Rohde said. "That's about 20 points a game that we lost so you know we had to step up and score."
Rohde had nine of his 20 in the fourth quarter.
"He's a beast in there," Stoneking said. "You know, he's not very tall -- he's about 6-1 -- but he has a big body and he knows how to use it. He has great body control and he can really hurt you on the offensive end and on the defensive end. I thought he really stepped up tonight and made a lot of easy shots."
Oak Ridge led 33-21 at halftime before Zalma rallied.
Brad Key netted a team-high 20 points to keep Zalma around.
"That's who we were looking at," Stoneking said. "That's the one guy we talked about yesterday and then at halftime. We saw he was doing everything for them and we played them a couple weeks ago and he hurt us driving down the high post so we took that away."
Zalma held Key and the Bulldogs to six points in the decisive fourth quarter.
"It was just making the transition from playing out of the press to just playing good back-court defense," Stoneking said.
OAK RIDGE (61) -- Andrew Puchbauer 15, Ethan Seyer 4, Hunter Seyer 6, Kelby Brown 8, Lance Rohde 20, Corvin Schoen 10. FG 24. FT 9-14. F 11. (3-pointers: Puchbauer 4, Brown 2. Fouled out: none.)
ZALMA (45) -- Austin Sitzes 6, Ryan Tucker 9, Brent Overbey 8, Brad Key 20, Christopher Lombeida 2, Cole Shelby 2. FG 19. FT 5-6. F 9. (3-pointers: Sitzes 2, Overbey 2. Fouled out: none.)