(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
CAPE GIRARDEAU - From losses in the last seconds to bad breaks on the road, the Sikeston Bulldogs basketball team has been through some tough times this season.
But Thursday night's 59-56 loss to second-seeded Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Class 4, District 1 Tournament at Notre Dame High School will be the hardest to swallow.
Trailing 57-56, Sikeston's Lavar Morgan hit the apparent game-winning basket on an offensive put-back with 0.2 seconds remaining.
But Morgan was whistled for going over the back. The basket was waved off and Notre Dame's Cory Beussink was awarded two free throws.
Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield was beside himself after the game.
"Everybody was just going for the ball," said Holifield. "I had a clear view of it and it was just a tough call that went against us. Especially with as much physical play that was going on all night. It's a big call that went against our team."
Chaos ensued as Sikeston thought it had won the game. It was so hectic that the referee didn't report Morgan's foul, which was his fifth personal. Morgan even remained in the game for the final 0.2 seconds.
Then the officials couldn't determine whether it was a player-control foul, which would have been Notre Dame's ball out of bounds, or over the back.
"I just couldn't believe it," said Holifield. "It was one of those calls that just stunned me. I was speechless. I didn't know what to say. I thought we had won the game. It really surprised me."
Notre Dame head coach Darrin Scott didn't offer much opinion on the final call.
"I don't know what happened to be honest," said Scott.
The play occurred after Notre Dame's Tyler Cuba made two free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining.
With no timeouts left, Sikeston inbounded the ball to Morgan, who quickly worked his way up the floor where he found Ben Anderson on the right baseline.
Anderson's shot rimmed off. The ball got batted into Morgan's hands where he made the put-back.
But it was wiped off.
"(Cuba) stepped up and made the big free throws, but the bottom line is we came down and got a good look," said Holifield. "It was a great finish and a great game, but we just had a really bad call go against us."
Prior to Cuba's free throws, Morgan sank a 3-pointer to give Sikeston a 56-55 lead with 11 seconds left.
The 3-pointer came on an inbounds play.
"We didn't want to leave him wide open," said Scott. "We just gave him too much space and he knocked it down."
Morgan finished with 17 points, including three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
He also had 11 rebounds and three assists.
"He stepped up and did a great job," said Holifield of Morgan. "He put us on his back and he tried to win the game for us."
Sikeston all-state forward Lontas McClinton, despite triple teams and heavy contact, finished with a game-high 21 points with 11 rebounds.
"They were banging and hanging on him all night," said Holifield of McClinton. "He did a great job of keeping his composure and he just battled through a lot of things."
Said Scott, "I felt like we did about as good a job as you could do to keep (McClinton) from scoring."
Sikeston opened up a double-figure lead in the first quarter as junior Nate Thomas hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lead 18-8.
The Bulldogs (13-13) led by as much as 20-8 when McClinton scored to open the second quarter. But foul problems started mounting quickly as Notre Dame steadily chipped away at the lead.
"We had too many fouls called on us," said Holifield in a sarcastic tone. "I think the foul total was 21 to nine. I guess we just fouled more than they did. They shot 19 free throws and we shot four. It's a tough situation when they happens. Evidently we foul a lot."
Notre Dame led three different times in the second quarter but back-to-back baskets by McClinton and Thomas gave Sikeston a 31-29 lead going into halftime.
Notre Dame (19-7) led by as much as four on two different occasions in the third period but Sikeston fought back to take the lead on a McClinton basket with 30 seconds left.
But in the final seconds, Notre Dame's Travis Siebert hit a 3-pointer that gave his team a 43-42 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter saw several lead changes as Morgan and Wayne Essner traded 3-pointers twice in the period.
There were 19 lead changes and 11 ties in the game overall.
Notre Dame was led by Beussink's 18 points, including 12-of-13 from the free throw line. Cuba had 12 points while Siebert and Essner each had 11 points.
Notre Dame made 16-of-19 from the free throw line.
After Morgan's 4-of-9 shooting from downtown, the rest of Sikeston's team was cold from 3-point range, combining to go 1-for-11.
But the Bulldogs dominated the boards, grabbing 46 rebounds on the night, including 23 offensive rebounds.
Bulldog sophomore Marcus McCaster, who was off the mark from the field, grabbed six rebounds and had five assists.
Holifield is excited about McCaster's future.
"He's a great shooter and he's going to be an outstanding player," said Holifield. "I have very high hopes for him."
The Bulldogs also return Thomas and junior Freddie Wiggins, both of whom saw plenty of playing time this season.
Including McClinton and Morgan, Sikeston will graduate Anderson, Lawrence Davis and Michael Colon.
Anderson had seven rebounds, three assists and four blocked shots in his final game.
Davis had six points, five rebounds and two assists while Colon had two points and four rebounds in their final game.
"I'll say one thing about our seniors," said Holifield. "They have been through adversity and they have been through some tough situations. I am very proud of them. They have stuck together and I can't say enough good things about them."
Notre Dame plays Dexter tonight in the championship game at 7:45 p.m.
Top-seeded Dexter routed No. 4 Ste. Genevieve 85-50 in the other semifinal.
Dexter (21-4) was never challenged as they led 18-8 after one quarter and 45-19 at the half.
Chris Hyten scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half, including five 3-pointers.
Bearcat junior center Derek Demaree also scored 22 points.
Matt Bader led the Dragons with 12 points.