NEW MADRID - With two games left on the schedule, the Sikeston Bulldogs certainly appear to be peaking at the right time.
With the Bulldogs' 62-54 win at New Madrid County Central on Tuesday, Sikeston has now won five of its last seven games.
It's the second time the Bulldogs have defeated the Eagles this year after losing seven in a row to NMCC dating back to January of 1998.
It's also the first time the Bulldogs have won on NMCC's home floor since they defeated the Eagles in the first Riverbend Classic in November of 1994, snapping a four-game skid during that span.
"They've had some outstanding teams there and it's always a difficult place to go play," said Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield. "I'm just proud of our effort. Every game right now is important, we're trying to get on a roll going into the district tournament. We just want to play as well as we can down the stretch."
The Bulldogs (10-12, 4-3 SEMO Conference) did it in much the same fashion as they have done in most of their wins this season -- by racing out to an early lead, maintaining it for most of the game, and withstanding a last-ditch rally in the closing minutes.
"We got up 16 points early and they would not go away," said Holifield.
But as they have done on five other occasions this year when they held large leads, the Bulldogs still did enough to win.
"The first quarter killed us," said NMCC head coach David Fields. "We could've gotten beat 30 with the way we played in that first quarter, but we didn't quit and I was proud of the way we battled back."
The Bulldogs fell behind 5-4 early in the game but they responded with a 13-1 run to take a 17-6 lead with 2:17 left in the quarter.
After a steal, sophomore Marcus McCaster scored a layup at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 22-9 lead.
McCaster then opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Bulldogs a 25-9 lead, marking the biggest margin of the night.
From that point on, NMCC was climbing out of a hole.
The Eagles (8-14, 3-5 SEMO) were able to cut the lead to 30-24 but a Lontas McClinton basket at the end of the second quarter gave the Bulldogs an eight-point advantage.
Sikeston's Lavar Morgan, who played all 32 minutes, scored all 12 of his points in the first half.
"Lavar really shot the basketball well early," said Holifield. "And he did a great job tonight of handling the basketball. He had very few turnovers and he had the ball in his hands a lot. He played the entire game again, that's about the third game in a row that he's done that. He stepped up and really played well."
The Eagles started the second half strong, cutting the lead to 36-31.
But a slam dunk in traffic by 6-foot-7 Ben Anderson sparked an 8-1 run to boost the lead back to double figures.
Anderson finished with six points. He also had six rebounds, seven blocked shots and three assists.
"Anderson was a big key in the ballgame because he blocked some shots and he hit a couple of big shots when they needed it," said Fields.
The Eagles were still able to cut the lead to 44-38, but Nate Thomas buried a 3-pointer at the third quarter horn, Sikeston's third buzzer-beater of the night, to give the Bulldogs a 47-38 lead.
Thomas finished with a career-high 11 points, hitting 3-of-4 from downtown.
A Thomas 3-pointer from the right corner with five minutes left in the game gave the Bulldogs a 52-38 lead.
NMCC rallied and cut the lead to 54-49 on a Mike Rose 3-pointer with 2:00 left, but that was as close as they would get.
Freshman Jordan Kimball hit a 3-pointer with 46 seconds left to make cut the lead to 58-52, but McCaster sank four consecutive free throws in the final seconds to seal the victory.
McCaster finished with nine points and four assists.
McClinton led the Bulldogs with 16 points while senior Michael Colon followed up with eight points, five rebounds and three steals.
It's the kind of balanced scoring Holifield wants to see.
"They really centered around Lontas and our other players stepped up and did a good job," said Holifield. "We had three guys in double figures and were close to having five guys in double figures. That's good balance for us. That's how we have to distribute points to win games."
NMCC was led by Edgar Givens' 16 points. Mike Rose followed up with 12 points and Vaughn Shepherd added 11 points.
"I think us and Sikeston play the two toughest schedules around here," said Fields. "We played Sikeston earlier in the year and I think they've definitely gotten better. They've gotten some other kids to step up. You've got to give Sikeston credit, they're so strong and so physical. I was worried all night that they were just going to wear us down. I think Coach Holifield does a great job."
The Sikeston JV team improved to 12-7 on the season and 5-2 in the SEMO Conference when they held on to defeat NMCC's JV 42-41.
The Bulldogs fell behind 10-2 in the first quarter, but Sikeston caught fire from there.
The Bulldogs led 17-16 at the half and 26-22 heading into the fourth quarter.
Sikeston eventually led 38-24 in the fourth quarter with just 2:30 remaining, but NMCC's jayvee wouldn't go away.
In just 49 seconds, NMCC had cut the lead to 38-35 and seconds later they had the lead down to 38-37.
Sikeston was able to hold on though, as Brandon Williams made two free throws with 10 seconds left to seal the win.
NMCC's Malcolm Long hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to reach the final margin. He led all scorers with 17 points.
Sikeston was led by Apollo Patterson's 12 points and six rebounds. Kash Bratcher added nine points.
Matt Limbaugh had eight rebounds while Tyler Woodson had six assists.