MEXICO, Missouri — Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School boasts talent outside of Michael Porter Jr. On Wednesday, the Trailblazers proved that in a must-win game.
Porter scored a game-high 25 points but shot just 10-of-27 from the field as the Trailblazers beat Bowling Green High School 55-38 in the round of 16 in the Class 3 boys basketball state playoffs. His team still convincingly kept the Bobcats at bay for most of the night.
Tolton (25-2) advances to face Madison Prep at 1 p.m. Saturday at Warrenton High School.
“Coach said at the beginning of the playoffs we’ve gotta play our best game every night,” said senior forward Josh Boyer. “This was not our best game.”
But it was enough to outmuscle Bowling Green (25-4). Tolton beat the Bobcats on the boards by a 15-rebound margin. Porter had 12 of them. Boyer added eight more.
And though it may not have been the Trailblazers’ best game, it was their most physical, coach Jeremy Osborne said.
“A whole season playing with three bigs and we’re finally starting to figure it out,” he said. “Right now we’re playing our most physical basketball of the year.”
That physicality is something Osborne stresses every day in practice, Boyer said, though Tolton has started to have less strenuous sessions now that playoff season has rolled around.
As the Trailblazers geared up for the tournament, Osborne would split his squad into even teams during practice and give one side a 10-point lead, forcing one team to play from behind in a late-game situation and the other to try to hold a sizeable-but-reachable lead.
“Bumping with these guys and getting your shot blocked in practice definitely gets you ready for the game,” Boyer said.
It’s also taught Tolton how to “win ugly,” Osborne said, something it hasn’t had to do very much this year. The Trailblazers have outscored opponents this season by an average of 22 points per game.
“When you have to buckle down and get stops in the half court, I think we’re capable of that,” Osborne said.
And that’s when Porter is having a good night. Wednesday, he struggled — mightily.
He missed three straight layups during one stretch in the third quarter. After making a 3-pointer to open the third, he missed his next two attempts, double-clutching the last one and eying the corners to find a passing option.
He reluctantly took the shot. The ball bounced off the back of the rim.
“Every night is not gonna be a good shooting night,” Porter said. “You’ve gotta find other ways to help your team win. None of us shot too well, but we all found ways to contribute.”
For Porter, the contributions came away from the basket. Tolton used the sophomore as a defensive enforcer to alter Bowling Green’s shots. He finished with two blocks and helped force the Bobcats into nine first-half turnovers.
He also made some authoritative plays that speak to what a game-changer he can be.
During one defensive trip, Porter ripped the ball out of the mitts of Bowling Green’s Andrew Martinson, whose glasses skidded across the hardwood. Porter punctuated the play with a monster dunk over Martinson in transition.
On the next possession, the Trailblazers came out in a full-court press. There would be no breaks for the Bobcats.
“I think we can win even if Mike has a bad night,” Boyer said.
Boyer, a Truman State signee, said the win-or-go-home mentality behind playoff basketball makes him even more excited for the games. If Tolton wins in Warrenton on Saturday, the Trailblazers will play in the state semifinals at the Hearnes Center. That much closer to being state champions.
“There’s a lot on the line,” the senior forward said. “You don’t think about it while you’re playing, but then you see it’s some of these guys’ last game. It could be us.”
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