St. John senior Mason Osborne and junior Tanner Halling were key players last winter on a Tiger team that finished third in Class 1A, Division I.
Both have played on the same high-level AAU basketball team with other top Kansas small-school standouts. As well, Osborne has worked with his dad, Mike, a former St. John player who was on the 1974 Tiger state title squad.
The extra work and team chemistry have yielded big performances this winter, including a 63-26 road win versus Otis-Bison on Thursday in Central Prairie League action. The contest had a running clock in the fourth quarter. St. John, ranked No. 5 in Class 1A, moved to 6-2.
“It’s fun,” Osborne said of the summer. “You play a lot of good teams. There’s no easy games, and it’s all competitors.”
The 6-foot-7 Halling finished with 21 points and Osborne delivered 16. Earlier this winter, Osborne earned MVP honors at the Larned Gene Keady tournament, and Halling collected all-tournament team honors.
“I have just gotten quicker over the offseason,” Osborne said. “Just tried to work on my shot. I was just a penetrator last year, so tried to work on my shot. It wasn’t falling tonight, but I just kept shooting.”
Throughout the offseason, Osborne improved his off-hand dribbling and showed a great hesitation move down the left side for a second-half layup. Overall, he is averaging 14.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Osborne grew several inches after he delivered 5.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists last year.
Halling has tallied 20.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.3 blocks. On Thursday, the duo played just three quarters.
“He has got such a high basketball IQ,” St. John coach Clint Kinnamon said of Osborne. “But his skill set has improved. Last year, Mason wasn’t a very good shooter, and now he is a good 3-point shooter as well as pull-up … runners, etc. Plays with a really good change of pace, and when you play with a change of pace, that makes you pretty hard to guard.”
SJ led 18-13 after the first quarter as the Tigers made 7 of their first 9 shots, all by Halling or Osborne. The Tigers pushed the lead to 33-18 at halftime.
“We did a really good job early with ball movement and our spacing,” Kinnamon said. “We have been working pretty hard on our spacing, because it hadn’t been very good up until this point, but I thought tonight we finally got out on the floor where we needed to play.”
“The other thing we did much better was we came off ball screens tighter,” he added. “And when you come off tighter, then the helps got to come, that lets the roll, lets the post up on the backside happen.”