By BRETT MARSHALL
DODGE CITY — The Ulysses Tigers and coach Jason Jones had hoped that their second straight appearance in the Dodge City Tournament of Champions would provide them a way out of their recent shooting slump amidst splitting their last four games.
When the Tigers walked off the United Wireless Arena floor here on Thursday afternoon, they were still searching for that elusive shooting touch following a 60-39 setback at the hands of the Class 6A Wichita East Blue Aces in first round action of the 69th annual TOC.
If things hadn't been a struggle recently, Thursday exposed more of the recent shooting woes by the Tigers. They shot just 13-of-40 (32.5) from the field, including 5-of-18 from 3-point range (27.8 percent) and only made 8-of-16 (50 percent) from the free throw line.
"It's been the story of our season, scoring the ball," Jones bemoaned afterward. "We only lost the rebounding by two despite being much smaller."
It was a game in which the Tigers never led and it was only tied briefly early at 2-2. From there, it was East that took the lead and slowly but surely pulled away. The Blue Aces owned a 14-7 first quarter advantage. By the middle of the second quarter, the Tigers had closed to within 17-13 but then East went on a 9-2 run to end the half in front 26-15.
"Every time it seemed like we'd get with four or six, we'd make a turnover and then they'd go on a little run," Jones said.
Oh, those turnovers. The Tigers were guilty of 20 of them, another cause of concern to the Tigers' head coach.
"We just make too many unforced errors, things that we shouldn't be doing at this stage," Jones said.
East (7-3) went up by as many as 15 in the third quarter, with the Tigers unable to draw any closer than nine. By the end of the period, the Tigers found themselves looking at a 38-24 deficit.
Jones said he was not unhappy with his team's defense despite giving up 60 points, 22 of those coming in the final eight minutes. East's biggest lead was 26, 56-30, with just over a minute left and only three 3-pointers by the Tigers, including a halfcourt bank shot at the final buzzer by Kyle Zerr enabled them to close on a solid note.
"We've been defending, doing everything else well enough to win," Jone said of his team's effort. "It's not like we're struggling to find good looks. We're getting those, we're just not putting them down. At some point in time, if you're going to win the games you know you should, you've got to start making them."
Despite the 21-point loss, Jones didn't feel there was that much difference between his Tigers and the Blue Aces.
"They're not that (21 points) much better than us," Jones said. "We contributed a lot to their shooting."
The 20 turnovers by the Tigers led to 26 points by the Blue Aces while Wichita also got nine second-chance points. The Aces' bench also outscored the Tigers' bench 21-7.
"We work so hard and then we shoot ourselves in the foot," Jones said. "The kids are playing hard, you can rarely fault them for that. We can shore these things up and we'll be okay. We've got to go out and play fearless. I thought perhaps, with the exception of a couple of players, that we played a little tight."
The Tigers were scheduled to face Manhattan today at 2 p.m. in a consolation game. Manhattan lost its tourney opener on Thursday afternoon, 50-39, to Hutchinson.
Ulysses 7 8 9 15 -- 39
Wichita East 14 12 12 22 -- 60
Ulysses (6-4) — Galindo 0-4 0-2 0, Newell 5-11 1-2 14, Kissell 2-9 6-8 10, Zerr 3-8 0-0 8, Jarnagin 3-4 0-2 6, Meierhoff 0-2 0-0 0, Annis 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 13-40 8-16 39.
Wichita East (7-3) — Love 5-10 2-3 13, Burris 2-7 3-3 7, Terrell 5-7 0-0 10, Haynes-Jones 4-6 0-0 10, Sanders 1-5 0-0 2, Jackson 4-11 0-1 8, Griffin 1-1 0-0 2, Martin 0-1 0-0 0, Brandon 3-4 0-0 6, Dennis 1-5 0-0 2, Nesper 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-58 5-7 60.
3-point goals--Ulysses 5-18 (Galindo 0-3, Newell 3-7, Kissell 0-1, Zerr 2-7), East 3-12 (Love 1-3, Burns 0-1, Haynes-Jones 2-4, Sanders 0-2, Jackson 0-2). Rebounds--Ulysses 32 (Kissell 7), East 34 (Love 5, Hester 5). Fouls--Ulysses 9, East 13. Assists--Ulysses 7 (Jarnagin 3), East 11 (Terrell 4). Turnovers--Ulysses 20, East 13. Blocked shots--Ulysses 5 (Kissell 5), East 1 (Dennis). Steals--Ulysses 8 (Galindo 3), East 9 (Terrell 5).