NMCC wins 3A District 1; back in playoffs
SIKESTON -- New Madrid County Central took its first step towards defending the state crown on Friday night, beating Dexter 71-50 in the 3A District 1 championship game at the Sikeston Field House.
The Eagles (25-3) tied the 1988 school record for wins, and will now face District 2 winner Park Hills Central in Wednesday's sectional at Poplar Bluff.
"We've been focused from day one on going as far as we're capable of going," said NMCC head coach Joby Holland. "Hopefully we can get back to that state tournament. This gets us one step closer."
With several college coaches and scouts in attendance, Eagle guard Dereke Tipler had a spectacular performance, falling just three rebounds short of a triple-double. He scored 22 points with 10 assists and pulled down seven boards.
The two-time all-stater struggled early with six first-half turnovers, but exploded with 18 points over the final nine minutes.
"Dereke really settled down and took over on the offensive end of the floor," said Holland. "That's what we expect him to do. I don't think anybody felt worse about his first-half performance than he did. We discussed his play at halftime and he responded. A big part of how we go depends on how Dereke goes."
Behind Tipler, NMCC outscored Dexter 22-8 in the fourth quarter to pull away for the win.
"Your jaw just drops," said Dexter head coach Eric Sitze. "(Tipler) went from being one player to a different player in that last quarter. He took over the game like he's done all year."
The loss ends the Bearcats' remarkable season at 24-4. "I was only disappointed with the ending," said Sitze. "I thought we played with (NMCC) for most of three quarters, but in the fourth they turned it up another notch. It was like turning on a light switch -- they were a different team out there. We were just kind of standing there in awe and they turned a good game into a blowout."
The bigger and stronger Eagles dominated the boards, outrebounding the Bearcats a whopping 36 to 13. Ronland Ranson pulled down 10 of them and was the most consistent performer of the night, scoring 22.
In the first quarter his production in the paint kept NMCC in the game as Dexter hit four 3-pointers and jumped out to a 27-24 lead at the half.
"Ronland is a strong post player," said Holland. "He was the one constant that we really had through the whole ballgame. Everyone else came to play in the second half, but he kept us in the game in the first half. If not for him, we would've had a huge deficit to overcome."
The Eagles opened the second half with a bang as Brian Murph and Terrance Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Smith came back shortly after with another trey to give NMCC a 37-35 lead.
That sparked the flame as the Eagles ripped off a 34-15 run to finish the game.
"I think that relaxed them a little bit and gave them some confidence," said Sitze. "From there Tipler started taking it right down the middle on us."
For Dexter it is a familiar story. For the fourth straight year the Bearcats have fielded a team capable of making a run in 3A, but they've got nothing to show for it, thanks to arguably the best run of talent in NMCC history, which has now eliminated Dexter two years in a row.
"You think about it time and time again -- why couldn't we have these teams at any other time but when Tipler and this bunch were going through?" said Sitze. "At least we didn't have to use the gas money and go play them in Columbia. We got to play them right here. It's unfortunate for our kids, but we got to play one of the best teams in the state here at home. You can't ask for much more than that. I'm extremely happy with my kids. They've got nothing to be ashamed of, we had an exceptional season."
Chris Hyten led all Dexter scorers with 17 points, hitting three 3-pointers. Six-foot-7 center Chris Carr was held to 13 and had just four rebounds.
"I really thought Desmond Sims was a big key there," said Holland. "He did a good job of keeping the ball out of (Carr's) hands in the third and fourth quarters. Our defensive intensity really rose from where it was in that first half."
NMCC now advances to Saturday's sectional at Poplar Bluff, which will start at 8:15 p.m. Park Hills Central qualified for the game by beating Festus on Friday night, 54-49.
"(Dexter) had a heck of a season," said Holland. "It's a shame we had to go up against one another. If they were in another part of the state, they would've represented it well. Coach Sitze came into a similar situation as myself, taking over from somebody that has done well. He did a heck of a job this year with his group. I know they we rebound and continue to have more success."