SIKESTON - Virtually every time the Sikeston Bulldogs and the Poplar Bluff Mules meet on the basketball court, fans can expect an exciting game.
They got exactly that on Friday as the Bulldogs pulled off a thrilling 48-46 victory over the Class 4A No. 3 ranked Mules in front of a packed homecoming crowd at the Field House.
It ranks as the most notable win of the year for the Bulldogs, who improved to 11-9 and 3-2 in the SEMO Conference.
Poplar Bluff fell to 18-3 and 5-1 in league play, which is just a half game ahead of New Madrid County Central (4-1), whom the Mules defeated last Tuesday.
"It doesn't matter who it is in the SEMO Conference, you're going to have to come out and be prepared to play," said Poplar Bluff head coach John David Pattillo. "Sikeston-Poplar Bluff games are always like this -- it's always a battle. We didn't come in with a business-like attitude and that's what you've got to have every night if you want to be a champion."
The Bulldogs never trailed in the game, leading by as much as 18 in the third quarter.
Poplar Bluff had a chance to tie the game with seconds remaining, but Tony Webb's 16-foot jumper was off the mark as the Bulldogs' Lontas McClinton cleared the rebound, securing the victory.
"We ran the play that we wanted to run at the end," said Pattillo. "We got Tony the ball right in the middle of the floor. I'd say six out of eight times he makes that shot. We had our rebounders right there ready, we just didn't get the rebound."
Sikeston controlled nearly every phase of the game thanks to a rarely used zone defense.
"Our game-plan going in was to control the tempo," said Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield. "The zone really helped us do that. We have a very good zone, we don't play it as much as we probably should, but as the season goes on we start mixing some in and our kids really responded well in it. We had good positioning and good energy."
Sikeston also had a monster night from junior point guard Lavar Morgan, who scored a career-high 26 points with six rebounds.
"He was creating space and getting good looks," said Holifield. "Lavar's such a good player. He's a leader on our team. I have a lot of confidence in him and at any point in time he is capable of putting up 26 points like he did tonight. But it was a total team effort. Every person on the team was involved in this win tonight and I'm so proud of the effort."
The Bulldogs started the game on fire, jumping out to a 9-0 lead highlighted by a Lontas McClinton tomahawk dunk that sent the frenzied crowd through the roof.
The Bulldogs extended the lead to 10 before the Mules cut it to 13-5 by quarter's end.
Sikeston continued its strong play in the second quarter as Morgan scored 10 points in the period to give the Bulldogs a 26-12 halftime lead.
"I thought our players came out and really played well," said Holifield. "We set the tone offensively and defensively. I thought the first half was about as well as we have played all season."
The Mules were just 4-of-20 from the field in the first half.
Morgan out-scored the Mules by himself in the first half 16-12.
"He lit it up," said Pattillo. "We did a good job on McClinton, he's the one that usually tears you up. We did a good job on (Justin) Freeman. Those were the two guys we knew we needed to stop. Lavar was the other one that we wanted to stop, but he just threw some shots in. If we had thrown some shots in early maybe things would be a little different. That's just the way the game goes."
McClinton was held to 10 points and eight rebounds while Freeman battled foul problems all night and was held to two points.
Sikeston looked to be on the verge of blowing out the Mules in the third quarter, leading 30-12 with 6:44 left in the period.
But the Mules' Ben Brummitt knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to get the team going, slicing the lead to 37-26 by the end of the quarter.
Poplar Bluff trailed by as much as 12 in the fourth quarter, but they steadily chipped away at the lead, getting as close as one on a Webb 3-pointer with 1:13 left.
Later, the Mules' 6-foot-6 freshman Tyler Hansbrough had a chance to tie the game but he made just 1-of-2 free throws.
Poplar Bluff then fouled Lawrence Davis, who injured his leg on the play. Ryne Vickery came off the bench for Davis and made 1-of-2 free throws to give the Bulldogs a 48-46 lead with 11 seconds left, setting up Webb's final shot.
"We don't ever overlook and that's the whole thing we harp on," said Pattillo. "We just didn't have the life early. We allowed them to run their zone and we were satisfied with getting a couple of passes and just shooting it up. We thought that they might run a zone. It was just one of those nights."
Hansbrough led the Mules with 17 points and 10 rebounds. No other Poplar Bluff player reached double figures.
Sikeston out-rebounded the Mules 28-26. Poplar Bluff shot just 34 percent from the field. The Bulldogs shot 44 percent on the night.
Davis had a good game for Sikeston, scoring four points with six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Ben Anderson scored just three points but he drew two crucial charges in the game.
For Holifield, the win was the perfect remedy for a nightmarish outing at Portageville last Saturday.
"The other night when we left Portageville we were very embarrassed," said Holifield. "We did not play very well and we didn't compete. We were embarrassed and we wanted to show people that we're a good basketball team. The majority of the time this year we've played very well. We've been in just about every game we've played. But we felt Saturday night we didn't compete, and to bounce back against a good team like Bluff is a big win for us."
Sikeston will travel to Oran on Tuesday.
Sikeston's jayvee team fell to 10-7 on the year with a 54-52 loss to Poplar Bluff in overtime.
Sikeston led 19-15 after one quarter and 31-29 at the half but they couldn't hold on.
Freddie Wiggins led the Bulldogs with 17 points. Apollo Patterson followed up with nine points.
Poplar Bluff was led by Anthony Gilberto's 19.