ORAN -- Host Oran and Scott County Central tangled in a barn burner to bring down the curtain on the opening round of the 51st Oran Invitational Tournament on Monday.
Scott Central, the No. 3 seed, made the key plays down the stretch to hand No. 6 Oran a 73-67 loss.
In earlier action, No. 1-seed Malden, predictably, ran roughshod over the No. 8 Advance junior varsity, 92-20, in the tournament opener.
Five Malden Green Wave players scored in double figures, led by Alonzo Louis' 14. Ryan Criglar, Quentin Franks and Robbie Ison had 12 apiece and Nick Perkins added 10. Luke Steil led Advance J.V. with six.
The second game, a matchup between defending champion and No. 2-seed Bell City and last year's runner-up Twin Rivers, the seventh seed, was also a blowout with the Cubs advancing to the winner's bracket with a 74-34 win.
Nick Niemczyk led the Cubs with 21 points, including three 3's, and Melvin Johnson scored 15 with four treys. Phillip Gross had 11 and Austin Bash 10. Kenny Johnson topped the Royals with nine.
The game featured the return to the sideline of legendary former Scott Central coach Ronnie Cookson.
Cookson, who led the Braves to 12 state titles between 1976 and 1993, came out of retirement to manage the team in a crisis situation created by the MSHSAA suspension of head coach David Heeb.
While Cookson was coaching in his 769th game, his counterpart on the Oran bench, Denver Stuckey, was making his high school head coaching debut.
But, it was the intense, uptempo action on the court that had fans in the packed gymnasium rooting at a fever pitch.
The back-and-forth tilt was close throughout with six points the largest lead by either team.
"Oran's tough," said Cookson. "They've got a real fine ballclub. They're well-
coached and I felt like they were really into the game."
With the score knotted at 61 with 2:25 to go, the Braves' prime offensive threats, guard D.D. Gillespie and forward Caleb Johnson, hit back-to-back buckets to send Scott Central ahead 65-61.
Oran's Kody Campbell's field goal narrowed the margin to 65-63. He was fouled on the shot, but his free-throw attempt fell off the rim.
The miss was the 10th in 13 tries for the Eagles. In contrast, the Braves went to the line 32 times, hitting 22.
"Three-of-13 from the free-throw line killed us," said Stuckey, "but I was very pleased with the effort they gave. We missed some easy inside shots early that cost us, too. We really stress that easy shots and free throws win close games."
Gillespie's driving layin built the Scott Central lead back to 67-63 with less than a minute left before Campbell responded with a basket to again cut the lead to two at 67-65.
Two clutch free throws each by the Braves' Toby Heeb, freshman Bobby Hatchett and Johnson in the closing seconds clinched the victory.
Said Stuckey, of the Eagles' play in the final minutes, "At the end, I thought we got a little too anxious to do something great instead of just taking our time."
Oran led 12-10 after the first quarter, the first half ended in a tie at 29 and the Eagles took a 51-48 advantage into the final period.
Johnson and Gillespie paced the Braves with 24 and 23 points, respectively. Heeb chipped in with 14, including the team's only three 3-pointers.
Robert Lange paced the Eagles with 20 points, 10 in the fourth quarter. Hunter Glastetter scored 19 and Campbell 15.
Lange and Glastetter were also forces on the boards for the Eagles.
"They rebounded their butts off," Stuckey said. "If we keep that (effort) up, I told them they'll win some games and they'll be a tough team to beat come playoff time. (There are) lots of things to build on."
On his first game as a head coach, Stuckey, a standout high school, college and professional athlete, said, "I've played in some pressure-packed games all around the world and I think I was more nervous coaching tonight."
Cookson, who recorded victory No. 637, said, "It feels good (to be back), but I'm just proud for the kids. They're the ones who were out there working hard and I'm tickled to death for them. I hope they have success all year, but we'll just see."
When told that the Cookson magic appeared to be alive and well, he said, with a laugh, "The Cookson magic's got spider webs on it."
Scott Central will face Bell City in a winners' bracket semifinal on Thursday at 8 p.m., while Oran will meet Twin Rivers in the consolation bracket semi tonight at 7:30 p.m.