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Sikeston duo tops in conference

Sunday, March 24, 2002

SIKESTON - The SEMO Conference awards were given out on Tuesday night at Poplar Bluff High School.

Two Sikeston players were given awards. Junior forward Lontas McClinton won the conference scoring title while being named to first team all-conference. Also senior forward Justin Freeman won the conference free throw title and was named to second team all-conference.

Freeman made 42-of-52 free throws for an .808 percentage which just edged out Doniphan's Brian Pulliam and Shayne Talburt, who both shot 79 percent.

"Justin's a senior and played varsity ball for three years," said Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield. "Winning the free throw title in the SEMO Conference is really a nice award. He shot 80 percent and as a team we struggled. But Justin in late in game situations and close ball games really put us in a position to have some security there."

The 6-foot-4 Freeman was also the Bulldogs' top 3-point shooter, nailing 65 treys on the season. He averaged 12 points and five rebounds per game.

"When he's set and he's open he was automatic," said Holifield. "He's one of the best shooters I've ever coached. He's an outstanding shooter."

Freeman, a three-year starter, played for the Bulldogs' Class 4A, District 1 championship team in 2000 as a sophomore and was a key component the last two years.

"I felt I had a pretty good career -- it was fun playing for Sikeston," said Freeman. "We had some good teams and it was fun playing for the district championship. Playing Jackson for the district championship and winning that game here at Sikeston was the best moment I had."

And to win the free throw championship in the talented SEMO Conference?

"It feels pretty good to get it, especially out of all the good players in our conference," said Freeman. "It's an honor to get it with all the good shooters around here."

McClinton, a 6-3 junior, was strictly a post player but proved to be unstoppable at times. His biggest conference scoring games were against New Madrid County Central (32 points) and Doniphan (28 points).

He averaged close to 19 points per game, scoring 151 points in eight conference games. McClinton beat out NMCC's Dereke Tipler, who scored 145 points (18.1 ppg) in eight conference games.

"I think I did really good this year," said McClinton. "I was really pleased to win the award. I think if I try harder I can score even more points a game next year. I need to work on my jump shot and my ball-handling."

Holifield said McClinton, who also played for the district championship team as a freshman, has made huge strides the last year or so.

"Lontas matured from his sophomore year to his junior year as a player as much as any player I've ever coached," said Holifield. "Offensively he put up outstanding numbers and averaged 19 points in the SEMO Conference which is one of the top conferences in the state of Missouri. He was very consistent and he could carry the team at times. He has a chance to really have an outstanding season next year."

Freeman is the only senior the Bulldogs will lose to graduation that saw extensive playing time, but Holifield said replacing him won't be an easy task.

"We're not just going to have to replace his shooting, we're also going to have to replace his character," said Holifield. "Justin was a very solid player and individual. He's one of those types of players that you just love coaching. He had a great attitude, he's very positive, he was a hard worker and very dependable."

But even with the loss of Freeman, the Bulldogs return most of the lineup, including McClinton and a host of other juniors that will make up the nucleus of the varsity.

"I know we've got a good shot next year if we get our act together and play a lot over the summer," said McClinton. "We should be pretty good. My goal is to get to Columbia and play at state."