SIKESTON - The New Madrid County Central Eagles clinched at least a share of the SEMO Conference championship with a 57-49 win over the Sikeston Bulldogs on Tuesday at the Field House.
The win moved Class 3A No. 2 ranked NMCC (21-3, 7-1) into a half game lead over Poplar Bluff in the conference.
The Eagles can win the conference outright if the Mules lose to Charleston on Friday.
"It allowed us to get back into the race so we're at least conference co-champions," said NMCC head coach Joby Holland.
"That's good for these kids and they deserved that. With the district tournament coming up we've now faced the majority of the teams that are in the district."
But NMCC had their struggles with the Bulldogs (13-10, 4-3 in SEMO Conference), who stayed within striking distance for three quarters before the Eagles pulled away in the final frame.
"Coming into the game we just wanted to compete and put ourselves in a position to win the game," said Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield. "We got a little too far behind to do that but our players battled very hard."
NMCC never trailed in the game but there were several ties in the second quarter. The Eagles led by as much as 17 in the fourth quarter before the Bulldogs rallied to cut the final deficit to eight points.
"It was a tough one and we were able to get a little cushion there late," said Holland. "I thought Sikeston did an excellent job against us and did a good job of taking (Dereke) Tipler out of the game."
Tipler, NMCC's two time all-stater, was held to just six points with three assists and five turnovers. He didn't score until the 4:41 mark of the fourth quarter.
Even though Tipler was scoreless for most of the game, the Eagles still held a 16-point lead.
"(Tipler is) such a great player and he's going to put his teammates in a position to get good looks," said Holifeld.
"He's very unselfish. I'm just so impressed with him as a player. He's going to do his job whether he's scoring or not."
But the Bulldogs' close attention to Tipler opened things up for 6-foot-4 postman Ron Ranson and swing player Brian Murph, who led the Eagles with 17 and 15 points respectively.
Ranson also had seven rebounds while Murph had six boards and four steals. Murph's game could've been even bigger but he missed three slam dunks.
"We tried to spread the wealth out to maybe get some of the other guys some accolades," said Holland. "It's nice to know that we can play without (Tipler). He has to do a lot of things for us, so it's nice to know that he can just be a point guard and handle the ball and others are able to deliver and take care of it."
Meanwhile, Sikeston was being carried by junior forward Lontas McClinton, who scored a season-high 32 points (15-of-19 shooting) with 14 rebounds.
"We had no answer for McClinton," said Holland. "He was unstoppable and he came to play. He was a very strong force inside that we didn't have an answer for."
NMCC jumped out to a 10-2 lead and led 18-9 after one quarter of play behind Murph's nine points.
The Bulldogs battled back in the second quarter to knot the score at 18-18 after McClinton scored the team's first nine points of the quarter.
The Bulldogs tied the score two other times but could never take the lead. The Eagles led 30-24 at the half.
McClinton scored 13 points in the second quarter.
"He's just an outstanding post player," said Holifield of McClinton. "If he catches it then he's got a great shot at making it. We were very pleased with his effort tonight."
The Bulldogs were still within 34-28 with 3:45 left in the third quarter but the Eagles scored extended the lead to 43-33 at the end of the quarter.
The Eagles kept the lead in double figures for most of the fourth quarter. Sikeston cut it to 56-47 with 55 seconds left but couldn't get much closer.
NMCC out-rebounded Sikeston 27-25.
"I think New Madrid is a great high school basketball team," said Holifield of the two time defending state champions. "We let them get off to a quick start. We didn't handle certain situations very well during the game which allowed them to build a lead on us. But the kids battled hard and they kept competing. I was very pleased with the effort."
Other than McClinton Sikeston didn't have any other double figure scorers.
But point guard Lavar Morgan had seven points with a season-high nine assists.
"Lontas played extremely well and Lavar did a good job of running our club," said Holifield. "We have to make adjustments because the district tournament is next week and we want to put ourselves in a position to do as well as we can."
NMCC garnered the top seed in the tournament while Sikeston is seeded third behind No. 2 Dexter.
The Bulldogs will play their final regular season game on Friday when they host Kennett at 6 p.m.
Sikeston will host the district tournament at the Field House which begins Tuesday. The Bulldogs will play No. 6 Perryville at 6:30 p.m.
NMCC plays at South Pemiscot tomorrow at 5 p.m.
The Sikeston jayvee team fell to 11-9 on the season with a 47-33 loss to NMCC.
The Bulldogs led 15-12 after one quarter and 19-18 at the half. But NMCC outscored Sikeston 29-9 in the second half to win the game.
Sikeston was led by freshman Apollo Patterson's 10 points. NMCC was led by Remond Willis with 21 points and Michael Rose with 11.
Sikeston will play its final jayvee game on Friday against Kennett at 6 p.m.