The game of the year more than lived up to its hype, with Charleston beating Poplar Bluff in overtime, 86-82.
"The whole year, we've responded to challenges," said Charleston head coach Danny Farmer. "We responded again tonight. We had the conference on the line, the area's best on the line, and we haven't lost to a Missouri team. We had three things on the line and we responded to the challenge. We couldn't end the regular season any better -- than to be undefeated in Missouri."
The Bluejays won the game with outstanding guard play from Deshaundray Hamilton and Marcus Biles. Hamilton scored 24 points, hitting six free throws in the fourth quarter and in overtime.
Biles scored 22 on the night, sinking several crucial shots, but none were bigger than his game-tying shot in the fourth quarter. Poplar Bluff held a 77-75 lead with 10.6 seconds left in regulation.
The Bluejays called an isolation play for Biles, and he took it end-to-end, scoring with 5.4 seconds left.
"That played was call Rebel," explained Farmer. "We spread the other guys out, the two big guys go to the boards and (Biles) takes his man one-on-one. We felt it would be successful, because he's quick and he can finish. This was probably the best he's played all year."
Ben Hansbrough got off a shot at the buzzer, but missed, sending the game into overtime.
In the extra period, the Mules turned the ball over on their first two possessions. Charleston took full advantage as Biles scored a transition layup and Ashton Farmer converted a conventional 3-point play to give the Bluejays an 82-77 lead.
"The thing that disappointed me is I thought we started whining at each other," said Poplar Bluff head coach John David Pattillo. "You've got to pull together, and in those tough situations, you've got to be strong. There were a few times where I felt we could've been mentally tougher. I'm disappointed, but I think this is only going to help us. Hopefully this will make us grit our teeth and think a little bit more about how we approach things."
But Poplar Bluff didn't go down easily. All-state point guard Tony Webb drilled an NBA-range 3-pointer with 8.2 seconds left to cut the lead to 84-82. Bluff quickly fouled Hamilton, who hit both of his free throws to make it 86-82.
The Mules were unable to score in the final seconds, giving Charleston the impressive victory.
Webb scored a career-best 31 points in the loss, falling just three points shy of Poplar Bluff's career scoring mark. He also dished out four assists.
"We needed to get him loose," said Pattillo. "The kind of play that he makes -- you're going to get in this kind of game because (Charleston) is going to negate some of your post play."
Behind Webb, Tyler Hansbrough scored 23 for the Mules. He also pulled down a school-record 19 rebounds.
"We didn't handle Webb, and we did so-so against Hansbrough," said Farmer. "Webb kills us all the time. We started off with Deshaundray on him, and then we tried to put Biles on him. He had a big night."
As expected, the matchup generated huge interest. With the gymnasium full, Charleston police started turning fans away at 5:30 p.m., a half-hour before the junior varsity even started.
Charleston was in control most of the game, holding an 11-point lead with 2:03 left in the third quarter. Poplar Bluff's Anthony Gilberto ended the period with back-to-back treys to make it 60-55 heading into the fourth.
"There are a lot of things I didn't like about this game," said Pattillo. "There were some things we didn't do real well, but I thought we showed some guts coming back in the third quarter. We're going to have opportunities to win these kind of games. Hopefully if we get to a situation where we're playing in a game like this, we will make better decisions and play a little better defense next time."
Charleston increased the lead back to eight in the final quarter, but with five minutes remaining, 6-foot-8 Kewain Gant and Farmer were both benched with four fouls.
Poplar Bluff rallied in the final minutes. With 1:38 left, a Webb jumpshot gave Bluff a 73-72 lead. After a Charleston turnover, Webb was fouled and sank two free throws to make it 75-72.
With one minute remaining, Biles sank one free throw to cut it back down to two. The Mules bled the clock down to 30 seconds before Webb was fouled. He hit one free throw to make it 76-73.
Then Biles took it coast-to-coast for a layup to shave the lead down to one with 22.4 seconds remaining.
Hamilton then forced a jumpball, but the possession arrow was with the Mules. With 10.6 seconds left, Biles fouled Webb, sending him to the charity stripe. Webb made just one of the two to make it 77-75.
After inbounding the ball to Farmer, Biles took it end-to-end to tie the game at 77-77, forcing overtime.
"I knew the Biles kid could score," said Pattillo. "Both he and the Hamilton kid played really well, and I blame a little bit of that on us. We didn't rotate very well against their penetration."
Behind Webb and Hansbrough, Cheron Pearson scored 13 points and Gilberto added 12. For Charleston, Ashton Farmer scored 16 and Joshua Strayhorn contributed 10.
Charleston (22-3) will compete in the Class 3, District 2 Tournament next week at Bloomfield. Poplar Bluff (22-3) will face Jackson in the first round of the Class 5, District 1 Tournament on Monday at Cape Central. The game starts at 6 p.m.