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Maryville High School senior Marc Gustafson jumps through two Glenwood players at their home game Jan. 16. The Spoofhounds won 78-70 leaving them now 6-4 in their division. 

Maryville boys basketball started its new season Dec. 11, looking to surpass a 55-44 loss to Central (Kansas City) in the Class 3 District 16 Tournament to end last year.

Winning their first three games of the 2020-21 season, the Spoofhounds looked to be on track. This seemed hard to accomplish, as they lost guard Tate Oglesby, who led the team in points per game last year, due to graduation.

Since Dec. 18, the ’Hounds have lost four of their last six, a slump coach Matt Stoecklein knew was highly possible, but was hoping to avoid.

The 2018 Class 3A Iowa State champion Glenwood Rams (9-2) traveled an hour and 40 minutes Jan. 16 to the ’Hound Pound, hoping to add to the Spoofhounds’ losing streak.

Stoecklein and company had other ideas, as Maryville (6-4) began its road to staying above .500 and building its new identity. The Spoofhounds pulled away at the right time, securing a 78-70 victory.

“It was a great win versus a really good team. It proved that we can do it,” Stoecklein said. “Some of these other games that we lost could’ve been wins just as easily had we done some of the things we did in this game.”

A pivotal point in the game was clearing out the floor to allow guards to use their speed to drive and kick out to open shooters. Glenwood’s forward Grant Von Essen not only brought height at 6 feet, two inches, but physicality down low.

Maryville also brought its practice techniques to the game. Stoecklein had been preaching the importance of free-throw shooting, a factor in close games such as this one. As a team, the Spoofhounds went 18-for-23 from the charity stripe, with sophomore guard Caden Stoecklein going a perfect 5-for-5, and no other player missing more than two free throws on six attempts.

The Spoofhounds are still experimenting with rotations and player abilities, which keeps opposing teams guessing on who might have an impact come game time. Matt Stoecklein was impressed with the defensive effort from senior guard Caleb Kreizinger.

“Caleb’s confidence, I mean, he’s really come on. I don’t think he scored a ton of points, but he guarded their best player for almost the entire game,” Matt Stoecklein said. “Their best player still scored 22 points, but he shoots a lot, but Caleb was relentless on his defensive effort working on that kid. That was super exciting to see him take on that challenge."

Coming off winter break, Maryville had a slate of five games in 12 days. After the game against Glenwood, the ’Hounds will be rewarded a six-day intermission.

The next opponent for Maryville is Savannah (6-7) Jan. 22 in Savannah, Missouri. Matt Stoecklein is looking to keep his team sharp even with a much-needed resting period.

“We went ahead and had an open gym practice. Right now, they’re playing basketball, running up and down the floor, having fun and they’re getting in shape,” Matt Stoecklein said. “That’s been nice to have that little break. We can now focus on one team. It’s been a few days on getting ready for Savannah.”

Offensively, Savannah is not the strongest team in the MEC. The Savages have scored more than 50 points in two games, but with six wins under their belt, the defense has been the main factor.

In five of the six wins, Savannah held opponents to less than 40 points, including a 42-22 win against Benton Jan. 16. While Savannah has struggled at times this season, Matt Stoecklein knows Savage coach Nick Kemerling will have his team prepared.

“(Kemerling) makes them run their offensive stuff,” Matt Stoecklein said. “He makes them run their sets for 30 to 40 seconds, so guarding for 30 to 40 seconds sucks.”

It’s no secret Maryville will have to unleash its offensive firepower to capture two wins in a row for the first time since Dec. 17. The onslaught of points against Glenwood has the Spoofhounds confident in what they can do from here on out.

In the past, Maryville is a team that finds its groove in the second half of the season. Last year, Maryville finished 9-13 after winter break and seems to be on the same path this year.

“It’s about taking the right kind of shots, and we are taking more of the right kind of shots from the right kind of people,” Matt Stoecklein said. “People are realizing this is what I’m really good at, and I need to do it more.”

These two matched up against each other twice last season, with Maryville winning both games.

The Spoofhounds will have two days after Savannah to prepare for the 33rd annual Cameron Tournament, which will host eight teams from around the state. The tournament last year saw the Spoofhounds come out 2-1 overall, with signature wins over Cameron and Smithville.

The No. 4-seeded Spoofhounds will take on the No. 5 seed, Chillicothe, Jan. 26. They will play either No. 1 seed Battle or No. 8 seed Northwest (Kansas City) Jan. 28. With three games guaranteed, Maryville could play its final game Jan. 29 or 30.

“We’re looking for continued confidence in this tournament,” Matt Stoecklein said. “In the last two to three weeks, we’ve been playing much much better. I see as a team and as individuals, our confidence start to grow.”

For now, the Spoofhounds are preparing for Savannah. Likewise, the ’Hounds are looking to formalize their identity.

“I’ve been pleased with the boys’ effort and energy. They’ve worked hard, and I think at moments earlier in the season, we said, “Ah, we’re out of shape; I don’t have to work as hard,’” Matt Stoecklein said. “Now I think they’re getting to that mentality, that, ‘Even when I am tired because I’ve been defending so hard, I can fight through it.’ We’re getting more mentally tough.”

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