After improving to 4-2 last Friday, South Tama's boys basketball team dropped a pair of games to two of the best teams its played all season.
The Trojans struggled offensively on back-to-back nights early in the week. They averaged 8.75 points per quarter in the two games as they scored 70 points combined in the pair of North Iowa Cedar League West Division contests.
On Monday, South Tama traveled to Vinton to play the No. 1 team in Class 3A. Vinton-Shellsburg defeated STC 72-23 and improved to 7-0. South Tama hosted Gladbrook-Reinbeck (5-1) on Tuesday and fell to 4-4 with a 62-47 loss.
South Tama senior Sam Kuhter dribbles along the baseline during the second quarter of Tuesday's home contest against Gladbrook-Reinbeck. Kuhter scored 11 points in the Trojans' 62-47 loss.
"They play good defensively," coach Lonnie Hammond said about the Rebels. "We struggled a little bit on offense tonight. We didn't get our running game going as much as we'd like to and that's a credit to (G-R).
"At the same time, we had some opportunities and shots didn't go down," he said. "I know we missed quite a few bunnies. Looking here at the stat book, they outscored us on the floor by two points, but by 13 from the free throw line. We have to get to the point where we defend without fouling. That's a huge difference right there."
Senior Jose Fonseca matched his season-best with 20 points to go with eight rebounds for South Tama. Senior Sam Kuhter added 11 points, while senior Vinny Lasley had eight points and 12 rebounds for the Trojans.
Kuhter made all three of the Trojans free throws. He sank 3-of-3 foul shots while the rest of the team didn't shoot any. Meanwhile, Gladbrook-Reinbeck made 16-of-21 from the stripe.
"We didn't get the ball inside and attack the basket," Hammond said. "We settled a lot for jump shots. Some of them went down and others didn't tonight."
South Tama fell behind by six early in the first quarter as it took STC more than four minutes to get on the scoreboard. Kuhter put STC on the board with a conventional three-point play. He later scored South Tama's other bucket of the first quarter after grabbing an offensive rebound. STC trailed the Rebels 13-5 after the first period.
The two squads battled throughout the second quarter. The Rebels built an 11-point lead early in the quarter, but South Tama rallied and closed the gap to three points with a 12-4 run. Fonseca scored five points and Lasley added four points each to the run. The Rebels finished the half with another small run and took a 32-23 lead into the break.
The second half battle remained much of the same as STC kept it close but couldn't get any closer than seven points. The Trojans closed the gap to 10 points with 4:51 left in the game. Then they attempted quick shots on the next three possessions, but couldn't score while the Rebels didn't score for almost two minutes.
"It's a tough one, because I thought we did battle hard, but couldn't get over the hump," Hammond said. "We kept working at it, chipping away at it and we'd get it down to a little bit more manageable margin. Then we'd have a turnover or missed shot and they'd convert. Then it was right back to a 10-point game."
On Monday night, the Trojans struggled to score from the beginning as Vinton-Shellsburg built a quick lead. Vinton-Shellsburg led 16-3 after the first quarter and increased that to 40-7 at halftime. STC scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, which was one more than it totaled the first three quarters.
"It was one of those nights where all you can do is walk away from it," Hammond said. "Vinton is a very good basketball team. They are easily in the top three in 3A and No. 1 in a couple of polls. That was the best team we've played this year, without question."
South Tama played Thursday in La Porte City against Union in its final game before Christmas break. STC will next be on the court Jan. 4 at home against AGWSR.