The Riverbend Classic, in its 10th year, is a two-day shootout featuring eight quality high school teams from Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.
"This is probably the best attendance we've had since we opened," said tournament director Lennies McFerren, athletics director at NMCC. "The crowd has really been into the games and for good reason, because we've had some very competitive contests."
Host team NMCC opened the tournament with a 40-37 loss to Covington, Tenn.
NMCC led throughout much of the contest but, hurt by late turnovers, was outscored 11-6 in the decisive final quarter.
"We were really patient the entire game," said NMCC coach Scott Kruse. "This game gave us a starting point and our starting point is higher up the ladder than I thought it would be. If we can be that disciplined throughout the year, we're going to be o.k."
Especially pleasing to Kruse was the way his players responded and stuck to the gameplan.
"We don't have a choice of styles," he said, of his team which has no player taller than 6-2. "We've got to play a controlled ballgame, be tough on the defensive end and rebound. We're not going to have to try to convince people that's the way we need to play, because we did it on the very first night and that says a lot about these kids. They're willing to be coached and they're, obviously, buying into what we're wanting to accomplish."
Joseph Howell led the Eagles with 14 points, Laterrance Newsom added five and Malcolm Long four. Covington was paced by two 6-foot-6 seniors, Donnell Maben with 15 and Nick Parks with 11.
In the second game of the evening, West Memphis (Ark.) ran away from Hattiesburg (Miss.) 77-53.
Next up, the defending Missouri Class 4 champion Vashon (St. Louis) Wolverines showed they are once again a team to be reckoned with in a 61-50 win over stubborn Byhalia (Miss.)
Vashon's patented full-court pressure and rebounding intensity finally wore down Byhalia in the second half. The teams were tied at 31 at the intermission.
Charleston, Missouri's Class 3 third-place team last season, playing without 6-6 senior leader Ashton Farmer, fell 67-38 to Pine Bluff (Ark.) in the nightcap.
The Bluejays, starting three sophomores, never got untracked on the offensive end against one of Arkansas' big-school powers Pine Bluff.
Charleston received scoring from only three players. Sophomore point guard Shawn Sherrell led with 20 points, while sophomore forward Jamarcus Williams contributed 15. Junior Tavis Hamilton chipped in with three. "I saw some good things and some bad things," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "As expected, Pine Bluff played hard the whole game and were relentless on the boards, just what we needed to see to go back home and work on."
Night of the Legends, a special ceremony to honor individuals who have impacted the sport of basketball in Southeast Missouri was held between games.
Tom Reinagel, a longtime official; Mitch Haskins, a former coach; Gerald Murphy, a former coach; and Ricky Frazier, a former player, were honored.
Reinagel, a Notre Dame High School and Southeast Missouri State University graduate, was a basketball official for more than 20 years and a tremendous supporter of area athletics.
Haskins, currently the athletic director and dean of students at Meridian High School, Mounds, Ill., coached Charleston to a state basketball championship in 1975 and a second-place finish in 1977.
Murphy coached at South Pemiscot, Risco, Portageville and New Madrid County Central. He led NMCC to its first-ever state title in 1988.
Frazier was an all-stater at Charleston High School, three-time Big-8 All-Conference performer and All-American at the U. of Missouri. He played professionally for the Chicago Bulls of the NBA and also in Turkey.
Saturday's Riverbend Classic lineup features Covington vs. Byhalia at 3 p.m., followed by Charleston vs. Hattiesburg at 4:30. NMCC meets Pine Bluff at 6, then Vashon and West Memphis tangle in the tourney finale at 7:30.