The fans got their money's worth in Tuesday night's opener against defending Class AAAA Arkansas state champion Blytheville, but in the end Bulldog fans left disappointed as the Chickasaws held on for a 68-66 victory.
Despite the loss, which is Sikeston's seventh in the last eight meetings to the Chickasaws, Bulldog coach Gregg Holifield was upbeat with the way his team played.
"I like the fact that we battled," said Holifield. "We hung in there and had a chance to tie the game. We faced a very good team. They are extremely quick and hard-nosed defensively. It was an action-packed game."
The Bulldogs rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie the game on their final possession.
Sikeston called a timeout and set up a final play with 11 seconds left. Sikeston inbounded the ball to Julian Beard, who then found Ray Rodgers posting up. Rodgers' shot rimmed off, but teammate Isaac Porter rebounded the miss, only to see his shot bounce off.
Sikeston couldn't get off another shot before time expired.
"We double-picked Julian Beard for a 3-point shot or find Ray Rodgers in the post," said Holifield. "They double-teamed Julian and he made the great decision to find Ray in the post. We had a couple opportunities but they rimmed off. We just came up a little bit short."
Sikeston had to play most of the game without all-state forward Michael Porter, who battled foul problems all night long. Rodgers also had foul problems the entire night.
The two had four points combined at halftime. Michael Porter eventually fouled out in the fourth quarter with 13 points and five rebounds.
"In the first half Michael and Ray both picked up three quick fouls," said Holifield. "Michael ended up fouling out. I still think we have a great opportunity if Michael doesn't foul out there late in the game because we were really starting to play well and Michael was doing a great job of getting position. When he fouled out it really hurt us."
Sikeston led through much of the first quarter and built an 18-15 lead, but Blytheville scored five straight to hold a 20-18 edge at the end of one.
The Bulldogs stayed close in the second quarter, tying the game on two Matt Ritch free throws at 31-31 with 1:10 left.
But the Chickasaws closed the quarter strong again, including a buzzer-
beating 3-pointer by Gabriel Osagie to push the lead to 38-31 at halftime.
Osagie, a 6-3 junior, finished with a game-high 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
In the third quarter, Blytheville led by as much as 10 points at 51-41, but a basket by Beard and a 3-pointer by Ritch cut the lead to 53-46 heading into the final frame.
In an exciting fourth quarter, Sikeston steadily chipped away at Blytheville's lead.
A rousing Beard slam dunk brought the large contingent of Bulldog fans to their feet as he cut the lead to 53-51.
Later, in a wild exchange, Blytheville's Osagie was called for a foul and was blown for a technical foul after arguing the call.
Beard sank three of four free throws to tie the game at 54-54. But Sikeston never could get over the hump to take the lead.
Blytheville's Shontrell Johnson stole a pass and brought the house down with his own slam dunk to give the Chickasaws the lead at 56-54.
The Chickasaws eventually extended the lead back to 62-54 on a Melvin Brooks 3-pointer, but once again Sikeston had an answer.
Sikeston managed to tie the game at 65-65 on two Rodgers free throws with 1:15 left in the game.
But Blytheville's Marcus Chew scored a basket to take the lead for good. Isaac Porter made 1-of-2 free throws to cut the lead to 67-66. Osagie sank 1-of-2 from the line to reach the final margin, setting up the final sequence.
"They're the preseason No. 2 team in the state," Blytheville coach David Hixson said of Sikeston. "They've got everybody back from the team that went to the state final game last year. They've got experience and they've got some quality athletes and good basketball players. They made some plays when they had to make plays at very opportune times."
Michael Porter fouled out of the game with 1:33 left.
"He's a player," Hixson said of Porter. "He's an all-stater from his ninth grade year. He kind of reminds me a little bit of (Poplar Bluff's Tyler) Hansbrough when he was that young. When (Sikeston) had that run, I know he scored two baskets, maybe three in a row. We didn't have an answer then. When he goes out of the game, that was a big difference."
Sikeston was led in scoring by Beard with 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Rodgers finished with 13 points, with eight coming in the fourth quarter.
Blytheville's Johnson added 15 points with seven rebounds. Chew had 13 points and Jerrett Howard added 12 points.
Blytheville out-rebounded Sikeston 33 to 25. Sikeston also committed 21 turnovers while Blytheville had 15 turnovers.
"They're good again," said Holifield of Blytheville. "This team is going to be very good. They're quick and athletic, plus I'm not so sure that they don't shoot the basketball better this year than they did last year. They're a contender again and there's no doubt about it they'll have a legitimate chance of winning.
"It's a good game for us because it's a very difficult place to play and they haven't lost down there in three or four years at home. For us to go in there and compete and battle like we did against a really good team, hopefully it's a good stick for us to measure our team. For us to go against that type of quickness right out of the gate and have a chance to win the game, I think that speaks well for our team."
Sikeston's J.V. team fell to 2-2 on the season as Blytheville won 56-45, avenging a loss to the Bulldogs in last week's Notre Dame Tournament.
Sikeston fell behind 18-3 to start the game, but regrouped to keep the game from getting totally out of hand.
Sikeston was led by Stephen Jackson's 14 points and nine rebounds. Dominic Fondon added 10 points with three blocked shots. Eli Jackson had 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.