CAPE GIRARDEAU - If Tuesday night's game at Notre Dame High School has any bearing, the championship game of the University High School Christmas Tournament is going to be a great one.
On Tuesday, Charleston, the top seed in the upcoming event faced off with No. 2 Notre Dame, but the Bulldogs were able to pull out the victory 60-58.
The U-High Tournament is scheduled to tip off on Dec. 26.
With starter Jemorrio Betts out with a knee injury, Charleston (3-4, 0-1 SEMO Conference) ran into some depth problems after center Kewain Gant got into foul trouble.
"Tonight we didn't give up even though we didn't get any breaks the whole game," said Charleston head coach Danny Farmer. "But that's expected, I knew that would happen. We're trying to learn to play under those circumstances. I was happy that we played hard. I just wanted to go in and play hard under adverse situations. In the past, when we faced adversity, we normally would quit and give up."
The game saw neither team get a lead larger than six points. The Bluejays trailed 55-49 with less than four minutes remaining but they were able to tie the score on two Jordy Mixon free throws with 24 seconds left at 58-58.
After being fouled with 13 seconds left Travis Siebert sank both free throw attempts to lead 60-58.
Charleston called a timeout and worked for a tying shot but Dontay Clark's attempt was off the mark. The Bluejays knocked the ball out of bounds with two seconds left.
Notre Dame (4-3, 2-1 SEMO Conference) threw a length-court pass to Doug Schaefer to expire the clock and preserve the win.
"I felt like down the stretch we picked up our intensity and we got those loose balls and made those second and third efforts," said Notre Dame head coach Darrin Scott. "That's what it takes to beat a good team."
The Bulldogs overcame a 30-point effort from Mixon, with 20 of those coming in the second half.
"He jumps well and he's strong," said Scott. "He causes matchup problems, especially tonight. He was making 15-foot jump shots, and when he does that he's really hard to guard. Every time he caught it it was automatic."
The game was fast-paced, with both teams trying to get out and run. But despite the tempo, both teams were able to play solid transition defense.
"We wanted to get up and down the floor and get easy baskets and if that didn't work then we want to be patient and get it in the post," said Scott. "Tonight was the first night that we did a decent job of that. It's big just to win a game and get some confidence."
Charleston jumped out to a 10-6 lead in the first quarter but the Bulldogs ended the period with seven straight points to lead 13-10.
The Bulldogs continued to lead throughout the second quarter. They led 25-19 but fouled the Bluejays twice with less than three seconds left. Charleston capitalized with three free throws to cut the halftime lead to 25-22.
The third quarter was dominated by Mixon, who helped with the Bluejays take a 44-41 lead with his 12 points in the period.
"He turns it up -- when they get physical, that's his game," said Farmer of Mixon. "I think we had to earn every bucket. I thought Jordy made some difficult shots. When you've got three people hanging on you and you can do that, I think that's pretty amazing."
The Bluejays trailed most of the fourth quarter but took a 56-55 lead on a Mixon basket with 1:23 left.
But Notre Dame's Nathan LeGrand made 1-of-2 free throws and Schaefer had a tip-in with 41 seconds left to lead 58-56.
But Farmer knows his team will probably get another shot at Notre Dame, which defeated his team in last year's 2A District 2 title game.
"That's why we're not worried because we may play these guys twice," said Farmer. "I think Notre Dame hustled and they played more aggressive. They push a lot and they play aggressive defense."
Lezcano Dean followed up Mixon with 11 points and Farmer had 10.
Siebert paced the Bulldogs with 18 points. Scott Wittenborn had 11 and Schaefer and LeGrand each had 10.
"They rebounded well, they crashed the offensive boards like crazy," said Scott. "I thought they rebounded better than anybody we've played so far."
Charleston won the junior varsity matchup 51-43.