Consider Jakob Neidig an acquired taste.
The numbers aren’t flashy and honestly, neither are his basketball skills. But watch him enough and you know the Ozark Tigers gladly follow their point guard.
“Most people have a point guard just to bring it down and give it to the shooting guards or the post people,” Ozark senior Brett Krisik said. “Without him in the game, it’s a whole different game for us. Without him, we wouldn’t be the team we are.”
Neidig and Krisik proved a formidable combination Thursday as the seventh-seeded Tigers upset No. 2 seed Strafford 65-58 in the Blue Division quarterfinals of the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament at JQH Arena.
Neidig went 9-for-12 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and his eight steals were pivotal in Ozark building what became an insurmountable early lead. The senior seems to rise to the occasion when his team needs it most.
For example, after Ozark had lost a 13-point lead and Strafford pulled even at 39 with a pair of Brandon Foley free throws, Neidig picked up a steal and rebound as the Tigers quickly regrouped and took a 43-39 lead. The Indians (9-2) would never get any closer than two the rest of the game.
“You don’t see much in the scoring column, but he’s a coach on the floor,” Ozark coach Steve Hunter said. “You never see him in come out of the game. The ball in his hands, we feel pretty comfortable with that.”
The Tigers (6-4) also got to exorcise some demons Thursday. Finishing games, especially from the free-throw line, had been difficult this season and were partly to blame for their average start.
After Ozark had regained control in the second half, building a 61-50 lead with 1:50 left in the game, things took a strange turn. A foul and subsequent technical foul on an Ozark player led to four made free throws — two each by Jacob Wade and Foley — followed by a bucket from Wade and quick turnover by the Tigers for a Brady Collier basket. In total, the Indians scored eight points in 21 seconds to cut the lead to 61-58.
“Bad thoughts started creeping in,” Neidig said. “We still need to make some improvement, but it meant a lot to us to get over that hump. We made some free throws we needed to make and got some rebounds when we needed them.”
Krisik continued to be a monster inside, scoring 24 points and picking up big baskets every time Ozark desperately needed a score. The 6-foot-6 post has been the most consistent Tiger, averaging 17 points a game. Neidig added 11 and Nick Cookinham scored 11 to lead Ozark.
The Tigers — still bearing a grudge for its low seeding — can try to to be a further fly in the ointment when they battle sixth-seeded Mount Vernon for a berth in the championship at 5:30 p.m. today at Hammons Student Center
Jacob Wade led Strafford with 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Kyle Foley added 18 for the Indians.
“Soft. Soft passes and we were soft all over the floor,” Strafford coach Mike Wilson said. “We played scared and I sometimes forget we have bunch of sophomores on the floor, but they’ve played so much it shouldn’t happen.
“In this world, in general, if you are soft, you are going to get run over.”