COLUMBIA -- The looks on the faces of the players and coaches on Bell City's bench in the waning minutes of Thursday's Class 1 boys basketball state semifinal game at Mizzou Arena said it all.
As the final minute ticked off the clock, Bell City's reserves and coaches looked on in disgust as Jefferson iced the game from the free-throw line, downing the defending state champion, 65-50.
"They played really well," a dejected Bell City coach David Heeb said of Jefferson following the game. "I thought they played hard. Give them all the credit for how they played."
Bell City will face last year's runner-up, St. Elizabeth, at 9 a.m. today in the third-place game.
Jefferson will play North Shelby for the championship at 12:10 p.m.
Little seemed to go right for the Cubs. Loose balls found their way into Jefferson players' hands. Bell City could not buy a rebound and were out-
rebounded 37-25. Calls seldom went Bell City's way. And when the Cubs needed a basket, they just could not find a way to score.
Heeb did not make any excuses for his club's poor performance, though.
"I thought they were just tougher than we were," Heeb said. "We did not come to play today. Maybe that's some of our youth."
Bell City's youth and inexperience -- the Cubs play four freshmen extensively and returned only one starter -- were on display throughout the game.
The Cubs turned the ball over 24 times and continually made poor decisions. Still, as bad as they played, the Cubs went into the fourth quarter tied at 39
Jefferson took the lead early in the fourth quarter on a pair of jumpers from its lone senior, Cody Jenkins, and held the lead the rest of the way. Bell City had several chances to get back into the game in the fourth, but the Cubs' day was typified by an 0-for-3 trip to the line which would have cut their deficit to two points with 4:21 remaining.
"We couldn't capitalize on mistakes," Heeb said.
Jenkins, only a 54 percent free-throw shooter on the season, was 6-for-6 from the line in the final minute to help secure the win. The Eagles hit 10-of
-12 free throws down the stretch.
"You just have to step up and knock them down," Jenkins said of his free throws.
On the other hand, Bell City once again struggled from the line. The Cubs finished just 7 of 13 from the line in the game.
"I've been saying for two months you can't win a state tournament if you don't hit free throws, and today it showed," Heeb said.
While the game was nip and tuck for much of the second half, the Cubs looked like they may run away with the game midway through the second quarter. After trailing 13-12 at the end of the first quarter, the Cubs went on a 13-2 run to start the second quarter and led 25-15 with 2 minutes 53 seconds remaining in the half.
After Jeff Liggins' 3-pointer gave Bell City the 10-point lead, the Eagles regrouped with a timeout and went on a 9-2 run to close the half and cut the gap to 27-24.
"The thing we talked about was getting the lead under 10. We wanted to shrink the lead before half," Jefferson coach Tim Jermain said. "I think probably the way we approached that is it starts with defense."
Bell City's biggest lead the rest of the game was 35-32 with more than 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Heeb said unlike his previous state championship teams, this year's squad simply could not convert a run like its second-quarter spree into a knockout blow.
"Today and most of the year they've had a tough time doing that -- putting people away," Heeb said.
While the Cubs limited Jefferson to 42.9 percent from the field, they managed to shoot just 43.2 percent.
Freshman D.D. Gillespie, Bell City's leading scorer, was 4-for-12 from the field and finished with 10 points.
Gillespie and several others for the Cubs had a tough time finishing drives to the basket.
"I think we were just trying to play too fast," Heeb said.
Liggins led the Cubs with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Nick Niemczyk added 13 points.