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Boys basketball: Bulldogs grind out win over Railsplitters

Feb. 7—OTTUMWA — It's been a grind for the Ottumwa High School boys basketball team.

Eight games in the past 13 days. Four games decided by 10 points or less. Two games that were up for grabs in the final minute of regulation and two overtime periods played at Marshalltown.

"We've played a lot of games in a lot of days," Bulldog head coach Neil Hartz said. "We've got tired legs, but we'll just keep fighting."

Such was the case on Tuesday as Ottumwa had to find a way to win a game in which the Bulldogs struggled from the field, missing 32 of 46 shots from the field including 11 of 12 shots from 3-point range while committing 15 turnovers. Lincoln, however, struggled even more as the Bulldog defense collected 16 steals and forced the Railsplitters into 26 turnovers on the way to a 43-34 Iowa Alliance south division win allowing Ottumwa to avoid suffering a third consecutive loss.

"This was one of those games you just want to grind it out to get out of here with a win," Hartz said. "Our defense was spot-on. We went to a zone, which we don't play a lot, but Coach (Jeff) Smith and I both felt like Lincoln wouldn't be able to shoot us out of it.

"We stayed in the entire game. Guys were getting deflections, one-and-done with rebounds. It came out really well for us. It may be something we keep in our back pocket to use down the road."

The shooting struggles for the Bulldogs were evident early as Ottumwa hit just two of their first 12 field goals attempts, allowing Lincoln (4-12, 3-8 Iowa Alliance) to grab the early lead. The Railsplitters, however, never led by more than five points in the opening quarter allowing Ottumwa to stay in the game before the Bulldog defense took over in the second quarter, forcing Lincoln into eight turnovers while allowing just one field goal and one free throw to Lionel Parks over the final eight minutes of the half.

Ottumwa caught Lincoln at 12-12 on a pair of free throws by Trae Brown midway through the second quarter. Chase Thompson put the Bulldogs ahead for good, sinking a 3-pointer from the top of the key with under two minutes left in the first half before finding Bryan Coulter inside for a lay-up as Ottumwa took a 17-12 lead into the halftime break.

"We got into the locker room last night after a loss (to Mount Pleasant) that we shouldn't have had. Coach Hartz told us that we needed to come out with some energy or this game would end the same way," Thompson said. "It's mentally and physically tiring to go through this. We haven't played more than two games a week most of the season, so to go through four road games in a week and deal with school, it was a rough week that we're coming off of."

Thompson continued to step up for Ottumwa to open the second half, scoring twice on steals that led to breakaway lay-ups as the Bulldogs quickly opened a 10-point lead in the third quarter. Lincoln, however, chipped away at the deficit scoring 10 of the final 13 points in the period cutting Ottumwa's lead to 25-22 heading into the fourth.

The Bulldogs, however, refused to waver over the final eight minutes. Coulter scored on a putback before sinking a pull-up jumper before a steal and breakaway dunk by Pope woke up the crowd at Evans Gym, giving Ottumwa a 32-22 lead with 5:28 left.

"Sometimes, your defense has to create your offense when your offense isn't working," Hartz said. "When Rahsha got that dunk, I think it got the energy back in the building and gave us the energy to finish the game out."

Brown, who showed some signs of the physical wear-and-tear that has come with battling in the post for several games shooting just 3-14 from the field, led all scorers with 12 points. Despite the struggles from the field, Brown finishing 6-8 from the free throw line making three of four in the final minute to clinch the Bulldog win.

"We called a timeout (in the fourth quarter) and I called a play for Trae. I told him I was putting him in that situation for a reason," Hartz said. "He's the leader of this team. He's shooting 75 percent from the line this season. I told him to go out there and do what he had to do. He knocked them down."

Damarius Parker led Lincoln with 11 points in the loss. Ottumwa (11-6, 6-5 Iowa Alliance) hosts Ames on Thursday having clinched the program's first winning season since 2021.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.