(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
POPLAR BLUFF - Beating a team three times in one season is always one of the more difficult things to do in sports.
The Charleston Bluejays were faced with that problem in Wednesday night's Class 3 Sectional game against Doniphan at the Bess Activity Center in Poplar Bluff.
But like they had done the previous two times, the Bluejays prevailed convincingly, winning 80-60 to advance to the quarterfinal round where they will face Hancock at the Farmington Civic Center at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Doniphan (14-13) gave the Bluejays all they wanted for most of the game, but Charleston exploded in the fourth quarter to win going away.
"It was a game Doniphan team," said Charleston head coach Danny Farmer. "This is the third meeting between us and I knew they would come out to play. They're a much-improved Doniphan team."
But it was also a much-improved Ashton Farmer, as the sophomore, and coach's son, scored a career-high 34 points on 14-of-17 shooting, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range.
"He played well tonight on both ends of the court," said Farmer. "I think Kewain or Ashton could probably score 20 or 30 points a lot of nights, but we beat people by 20 points a lot and they only play two quarters sometimes."
Gant battled foul problems during the game, but still finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.
"That's what he does all the time, that's about what he averages," said Farmer.
Charleston (26-3) limited the Dons to 4-of-27 shooting from 3-point range.
"A big part of our game, especially against a team of that caliber, is we've got to shoot the ball," said Doniphan head coach Shawn Gibbs. "That's probably our number one strength, we usually have four guys at all times that can shoot the three. We just couldn't get on track, and a lot it was their defense."
The Bluejays made six 3-pointers themselves while shooting 62 percent from the field for the night.
"Outside shooting is not one of their strengths and I bet they hit more 3s than we did tonight," said Gibbs. "When that happens, when you're playing a team of that caliber, then you're in big trouble."
Doniphan came out playing well as they controlled the pace of the game and forced several Bluejay turnovers with a tight zone defense.
The Dons led 17-14 after one quarter of play.
But the Bluejays took charge after that, out-scoring Doniphan 17-5 in the second quarter to open up a 31-22 halftime lead.
"In the second quarter they knew they had a game on their hands and they really stepped up their defense against us a did a good job," said Gibbs.
Farmer took over in the third quarter, scoring 14 points in the frame. His third slam dunk of the night gave the Bluejays a 40-29 lead with 5:00 left in the quarter as the Bluejays appeared ready to put the game out of reach.
"He's pretty tough to match up with when he's stepping out and hitting 3s and he's got the athletic ability to get to the hole and jump up over anybody," said Gibbs. "That's a tough matchup for anybody."
Doniphan caught fire over the next three minutes as they sliced the lead to 50-45 on a Danny Kellas conventional 3-point play with 1:53 left in the quarter.
But Farmer and Marcus Biles both scored to end the quarter to give the Bluejays a 54-45 lead heading into the final frame.
A Joshua Strayhorn 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter gave the Bluejays a double-digit lead that they would keep the rest of the game.
The Dons got as close as 61-50 when Danny Kellas made 3-of-4 free throws following a technical foul on Charleston, but that was as close as they would get.
Doniphan desperately flung 3-pointers at the goal in the final five minutes but weren't able to connect on any.
"I think we did a super job on their shooting," said Farmer. "That was excellent on our part. We wanted to control the boards, we wanted to limit them to one shot because they're such good shooters. We're very happy, we played well in a lot of areas."
Doniphan was led by Michael Pigg's 19 points. Kellas added 17 points and Shayne Talburt added 15 points.
Gibbs, in his first year as the Dons' head coach, led the team to just its second district championship in 34 years, with the last coming in 1999.
So he knows there's no shame in losing to the No. 2 ranked Bluejays.
"You could make a good argument that they're one of the top five teams in the state in any class," said Gibbs. "They beat Poplar Bluff, who is in the Final Four in 5A. They've got it all."