Leavenworth The Free State High boys basketball team needed three games to keep its head above water in the opening minutes.
The Firebirds will need at least one more to discover how to take care of business in crunch time.
A pair of costly turnovers in the final 21â2 minutes proved to be Free State's downfall Friday afternoon, turning the tide in a 54-50 setback to Springfield (Mo.) Glendale in the consolation bracket of the Leavenworth Invitational.
"That was a tough one," Firebirds coach Chuck Law said. "We found ourselves in a different position than we did our first two games. So we've got getting ourselves buried at halftime out of the way. Now, we've got to learn how to finish a game."
After withstanding a familiar flurry of turnovers in the first half, Free State (0-3) gave the ball away just twice after the break and nursed a slim 49-47 lead with 2:27 remaining. With the ball in his team's hands, Law called for a timeout, hoping to set up a play that would create breathing room.
Instead, Glendale (3-1) stole the inbounds pass and scored, then capitalized on another Free State miscue two possessions later.
"Two killer possessions," Law said. "I didn't like our organization when we were up two. We thought we saw something on their out-of-bounds play and we went back to the well. We didn't execute it.
"We just have not quite made that adjustment yet - understanding how much the ball has to be valued in that situation."
The loss denied Law his first victory and spoiled strong performances by a pair of Free State juniors.
Point guard Ryan Murphy finally flashed some of the playmaking ability that made him so dangerous on the football field, confidently attacking the basket on the way to a team-high 11 points. Meanwhile, big man Christian Ballard also showed aggression on the low blocks, scoring eight points while giving the Firebirds a strong presence on the boards.
"The first two games I struggled ... trying to do a little too much. I didn't take care of the ball too well," said Murphy, who was challenged by the coaching staff during halftime of Thursday night's loss to Fort Smith (Ark.) Northside.
"Today was a better day for me. I just got things done."
However, the Firebirds didn't. And while it's still early in the 2005-06 campaign, Law and his players know they must break through. Their next opportunity comes at 11 a.m. today in the tournament's seventh-place game.
"It's very important," Law said. "We need a win for the confidence level, but more importantly, we've got to keep getting better. We need to put a complete game together."
"It's huge," added Murphy. "We don't want to just keep going and every game coming up short. ... We really want to get in the right direction and get into the win column."