(photo by Lance Hanlin, Staff)
SIKESTON - The 31st Annual Sikeston Invitational Tournament resumed on Tuesday at the Field House.
In the top game of the night, top-seeded Poplar Bluff held off No. 4 Sikeston 52-48 in a semifinal matchup.
Also, No. 3-seeded Blytheville beat sixth-seeded Cape Central 52-40 and fifth-seeded New Madrid County Central eliminated eighth-seeded Kennett 57-48.
Poplar Bluff advances to the championship game for the third year in a row where they will face the winner of the Charleston-Blytheville game.
Sikeston will play in the third place game on Friday at 7 p.m.
NMCC advances to the consolation championship where they will play on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
In a game pitting the area's No. 1 ranked and No. 5 ranked teams, the Mules broke a tie game in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.
Sikeston (3-3) broke ahead early and led by as much as 10 points but the Mules' deep bench wore down the Bulldogs in the second half.
With the score tied 39-39 heading into the fourth quarter, Sikeston led briefly at 41-39 on two Lontas McClinton free throws.
But it was downhill from there.
Sikeston's Ben Anderson tied the game at 43-43 on a reverse layup with 5:53 left but the Bulldogs could never overtake the Mules.
Poplar Bluff led by as much as seven at 50-43 but the Bulldogs still hung around. Freddie Wiggins' basket with 20 seconds left cut the lead to 51-48.
Tony Webb, who had 12 points, sealed the game with a free throw with nine seconds left.
Poor free throw shooting contributed to the Bulldogs' demise as they missed four in a row at one point.
"We had about a three minute spurt in the fourth quarter where I thought we got tired, we lost our concentration and we got careless with the basketball," said Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield. "That spurt really hurt us tonight and we cannot allow that to happen to beat a great team like Poplar Bluff."
Poplar Bluff (5-0) entered the game on a roll, having dusted off Kennett 90-39 on Monday, and winning the Farmington Tournament last week.
But Poplar Bluff head coach John David Pattillo knew his team would be in for a battle on Tuesday.
"I expected it," said Pattillo. "I expected the same type of game that we have every time we play Sikeston. They try to control the basketball, they play hard defensively. They're a much better team than they started, and everybody knows it. It's nice to get this win."
Sikeston had to play without sophomore Marcus McCaster due to illness. Without him, Holifield had to dig deep into the bench.
"Marcus was sick today and that's just part of it," said Holifield. "Every team goes through that, Bluff will go through that at some point in time. That just happens. Our other players did a great job of stepping up. Sam Owens gave us some valuable minutes, he guarded very well and did not turn the ball over much."
But without McCaster the Bulldogs were lacking one of their best shooters.
The effect was obvious as Sikeston didn't make a 3-pointer, going 0-for-7 from downtown.
But Holifield said it had more to do with Poplar Bluff's defense.
"They're outstanding defensively," said Holifield. "They're up pressuring, they're all in the passing lanes. They're outstanding defensively and I thought we did a fine job defensively also."
The Mules, who made eight 3-pointers on Monday, also weren't able to connect on any 3-balls.
Echoing Holifield, Pattillo said the Bulldogs had something to do with it.
"Their defense -- it's simple, they get out on you, they don't make anything easy on you," he said. "I hope that we're kind of like that too."
After Poplar Bluff led 5-2 to start the game, Sikeston responded with an 11-0 run to end the first quarter to lead 13-5.
Sikeston led 15-5 after a Lawrence Davis basket, but the Mules scored seven points in a row behind back-to-back 3-point plays by 6-8 sophomore Tyler Hansbrough.
Hansbrough finished with a team-high 19 points.
"He's just a really good player," said Holifield. "He has great hands, good post moves around the basket. I thought our post game was good too tonight. I thought both Ben and Freddie and of course Lontas, all three of those guys really played well in the post."
Sikeston was still able to lead 24-19 at the half.
"We really were a bunch of sissies in the first half as far as not handling ourselves and getting bumped around," said Pattillo. "We did a better job of that in the second half."
The Bulldogs led 30-25 after two McClinton free throws with 5:20 left in the third quarter, but foul problems started to arise.
Anderson, Michael Colon and McClinton all had to go to the bench which opened the door for the Mules as they went on an 8-0 run to lead 33-30.
Sikeston got the lead back at 37-35 on a 3-point play by McClinton in which he completed a spectacular reverse layup while being fouled.
McClinton finished with a game-high 20 points with six rebounds and three steals.
"You expect Lontas to play well," said Pattillo. "We thought that we didn't need to worry about doubling down on him. You look at all his games, he's still scoring no matter what. So we were just trying to contest some of those other guys."
The theory worked as Sikeston had no other player reach double figures.
Lavar Morgan finished with eight points with seven assists. But it was his and Lawrence Davis' ball-handling that Holifield liked the most.
"Lavar Morgan had the basketball in his hands so much under pressure and Lawrence Davis had very few turnovers under that type of pressure," said Holifield. "They're as good a defensive team as we're going to go against all year.
"There's no doubt in my mind that our team has the potential and the capabilities to be an outstanding team. It's going to take some more time, but I want us to get to that next level."
The Eagles trailed 34-27 at the half but they turned up the defensive intensity in the second half to pull away for the win.
It's NMCC's first win of the year and also the first for head coach David Fields on the varsity level.
"That's the biggest win of my career, I can honestly say that," said Fields. "It's great for the kids. It's not about me, it's about our kids and it's really special for them because it gives us a confidence that at least we can pick up a win."
NMCC (1-4) outscored the Indians 30-14 in the second half. Fields said he scrapped the press and fell back into a man defense in the second half.
"I was kind of frustrated at the half," said Fields. "Our kids were working hard but we were giving up easy baskets. We weren't rotating on our press. Finally at halftime we made an adjustment and just started playing straight man and that kind of bothered them a little bit."
NMCC was led by Edgar Givens with 15 points. Michael Rose added 10 points.
Kennett (2-2) was led by Brian Mitchell with 13 and Cody Robinson with 11.
"We're playing on Friday, that was our goal starting out this week and now we've gotten there," said Fields.
Blytheville controlled the game from the start, leading 15-9 after one quarter and 30-19 at the half.
The Tigers hung around through three quarters, trailing 40-30 entering the final frame, but the Chickasaws pulled away.
Blytheville led by as much as 20 in the fourth quarter.
The Chickasaws were led by Daniel Smith with 14, John Fowler with 13 and Eddie Thomas with 10.
The Tigers (2-2) were led by Ryan Delph with 19 points.
Blytheville plays Charleston on Thursday at 7 p.m. while Cape Central will play Doniphan at 5:30 Thursday.