SIKESTON - Everyone knew that Friday night's game between Sikeston and Charleston was going to be a nip-and-tuck game to the end.
The fans got what they paid for as the Charleston Bluejays defeated Sikeston 56-55 in a packed Field House in yet, another high intensity game between the two rivals.
The Bulldogs (5-5, 1-1 SEMO Conference) had to battle from 17 points down in the first half, but it came down to some clutch free throws by Dontay Clark to seal the win for the Bluejays (8-4, 1-1 SEMO Conference).
"My prediction was that it was going to go down to the wire," said Charleston head coach Danny Farmer. "It was emotional, intense and hard to control. There were a bunch of people here -- the place was full and the kids were excited. Clark was the guy we wanted, he's our best free throw shooter. It was just a typical game between Charleston and Sikeston."
Sikeston led at four different points in the fourth quarter, but three times Charleston's Lezcano Dean drained 3-pointers to retake the lead for the Bluejays.
Sikeston never could get more than a two point lead. The Bulldogs' Justin Freeman buried a 3-pointer with 1:56 left to lead 52-50, but Dean answered seconds later with a trey to give the Bluejays the lead for good.
Sikeston's Lavar Morgan had a chance to tie the game with a short running jumper but it rimmed off with seven seconds left.
"It was a good shot, an eight foot shot -- it just rolled off the rim," said Sikeston head coach Gregg Holifield. "He had a good look at it and we just missed getting the rebound."
Clark hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 26 seconds to ice the game.
"I told the team before the game that win or lose I was proud of what they'd done the past two weeks with our practice time," said Holifield. "Overall I was very proud of the effort tonight.
For most of the first half, the Bulldogs looked like a team that hadn't played since Dec. 14 -- finding themselves trailing 27-10.
But once the rust wore off, Sikeston out-scored and out-played the Bluejays the rest of the way.
"We played with a lot of confidence in the second half," said Holifield. "We were a bit sluggish coming out of the gates and I was a little bit afraid of that. We hadn't played in three weeks, but in the second half we played outstanding. I was proud of our players for battling back."
The Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 27-19 towards the end of the second quarter. Charleston led 31-21 at the half.
"We got too high too early and we have a tendency to do that," said Farmer. "That's what I try to control. It's hard to control the emotions in a game like this. I'm glad this one is out of the way. This is definitely one of the toughest games we've had."
Sikeston continued to peck away at the Bluejays' lead in the third quarter.
The quarter ended with a wild sequence when Dean saved the ball off Lawrence Davis' face, but it ricocheted to a Sikeston player, who then missed a short jumper. The Bluejays' Deshaundry Hamilton then pushed the ball up the court, but Davis got back on defense to steal it from him. Davis then came down the court and hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 42-41 to send the Sikeston faithful through the roof.
But the Bulldogs couldn't control Dean in the fourth quarter. Dean scored nine of his 16 in the final frame.
The Bluejays' Jordy Mixon scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the first half. Clark finished with 10 points.
Sikeston was led by Lontas McClinton's 19 points and 17 rebounds. Freeman finished with 15 points and Morgan had 12 points, six assists, four steals and four rebounds.
"We were more patient offensively and we allowed our screens to work for us," said Holifield. "Our defense did a better job of eliminating dribble penetration. Our players kept their composure and their patience and allowed our offense to put us in position to score some buckets."
Sikeston out-rebounded the Bluejays 31-to-26. The Bulldogs only turned the ball over seven times in the game.
"Sikeston kept coming at us and coming at us," said Farmer. "They run a great offense, setting a lot of picks. I think some fatigue set in, we had trouble getting through those picks the whole night. This is a big win for us. If we'd lost we'd be 0-2 in the conference. Plus we're getting ready to play the best team in Southeast Missouri, so this win speaks for itself. We like to go in winning 5-0 versus going in with a loss."
But it will go down as another tough loss for the Bulldogs, who have now lost two games by one point and another by two. They also lost to Charleston back in the Sikeston Invitational by six, but it was a two-point game with less than a minute remaining.
Holifield is remaining optimistic despite the tough luck.
"We're a good basketball team -- we've lost three games by a total of four points," said Holifield. "We're going to get over the hump. We've just got to keep working. I thought we came out in the second half physically prepared to play. We've had two really good weeks of practice. Once we get into the flow a little more I think we're going to have a fine basketball team."
Sikeston will play at Malden on Tuesday at 6 p.m. while the Bluejays will play at NMCC on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
The Sikeston jayvee team fell to 7-3 on the season with their second loss to Charleston, 56-49.
Sikeston led 10-8 after one quarter and were tied 21-21 at the half. But the Bluejays used a 20-8 run in the third quarter to pull out the win.
Sikeston was led by Freddie Wiggins' 18 points and 12 rebounds. Apollo Patterson followed up with 10 points.
Charleston was led by Trentez Lane with 15, Zecoby Moore with 14 and Dadrian Jones with 12.