Tigers Still Looking for that Finishing Touch (by Pat Rupp)

TIGERS STILL LOOKING FOR THAT FINISHING TOUCH

by Pat Rupp

After losing six of its first seven games Farmington has bounced back to go 2-4 in its next six. That mark would be more impressive had Tigers not let halftime leads against Prior Lake and Lakeville South slip away in one and three-point losses.

The second quarter of the 2014-15 season started with double-digit losses to state-ranked Apple Valley and Lakeville North.

Then the Tigers heated up in a dominating 72-53 pasting of section rival Rochester Century in which Wyatt Ferm (20 points), Jackson Holmstrom (14) and Matt Anderson all scored in double figures.

Farmington kicked off the 2015 portion of the schedule in style with a nail-biter of a 52-49 South Suburban Conference victory at Rosemount. The win was the first-ever South Suburban triumph for the Tigers..

The contest also marked the return to the floor of senior Zach Speikers who got the medical go-ahead for play despite a torn ACL in his right knee. Speikers and Ferm each scored 11 points for the winners.

The table was set for a third straight win when the locals took a 40-32 halftime lead in a home game with Prior Lake. The Lakers bounced back in the second half but victory seemed in sight when Alex Hart hit a floater in the lane with eight seconds to play for a 59-57 lead.

The Lakers spoiled the party with a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer that overshadowed a stellar 30-point effort by Ferm.

Ferm was home sick with the flu for last Friday night’s game at Lakeville South but the Tigers showed their depth by roaring to an early 19-6 lead. The visitors still led by six points at intermission before fading in the second half in a 54-51 loss.

For the season, the Tigers have now lost five games by a combined total of 12 points. A basket here or a free throw there and the record could be 8-5 instead of 3-10.

“We need to learn how to finish off games,” veteran coach Shane Wyandt said. “We are still going through lapses in every half where we cannot score the basketball.

“We seem to either turn the ball over in spurts or get into our offense and then miss open shots in bunches. We have tried using timeouts and running different sets with different personnel but finishing continues to hurt us.”

Despite the close losses, Wyandt said his team has come a long way since the opening day of pre-season practice.

“I think guys are starting to feel comfortable and embracing their roles,” he said. “We’ve had a number of guys step up and turn their play around along with some new contributors. We are still playing deep into our line-up and are getting contributions from a lot of players.

“I think we continue to get better on defense and our execution of the offense is getting better as well. The problem is we don’t seem to finish that well in either category. We give up too many late game offensive rebounds on the defensive end and struggle to hit shots on the offensive side.”

Wyandt noted there has been another obstacle to success that has dogged his team from the start, namely the inability to field an entire lineup. Injuries and illness have taken their toll.

“A major problem for us is that we haven’t fielded anything close to a full lineup in any of our 13 games,” he said. ”Several of our top eight players have missed games with various issues and that has killed us.

“In every one of those close games the missing player may have made the difference between a win and a loss. We really need everyone in order to win those types of games.”

Excluding the South game, Ferm has given the team a go-to scorer as well as a steady performer on defense and on the glass.

“Wyatt is playing very well.” Wyandt said. “We always knew he had the ability to be a scorer and he’s doing that more consistently.  He is also doing a great job on defense and rebounding which sometimes goes unnoticed. He has earned the respect of all the teams we’ve played and continues to gain more interest from various colleges.”

The second half of the season will include 11 more games against rugged South Suburban Conference competition and a date with section rival Owatonna but Wyandt is optimistic about his team’s chances as the season winds down.

“I certainly think we have the ability to avenge some of the close losses from the first round,” he said “We’ll continue to work on getting better so we can hopefully enter sections playing our best basketball.”

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