Behind a 19-4 run to start the game and a packed Peters Gym, the Mules beat top-ranked Charleston 100-90 Friday night to close the regular season.
"We started out slowly but we never quit (and) kept playing," Charleston coach Danny Farmer said. "We were pleased with our effort."
The Bluejays (20-3) trailed by as many as 20 in the first half but cut the deficit to six with 1:14 left in the fourth quarter behind a flurry of 3-pointers.
Charleston was 12-for-31 behind the arc but the Mules (19-6) closed out the game by hitting 9-of-10 free throws.
On Senior Night, Devon Brown scored 21 points for the Mules, hitting 4-of-6 behind the arc, while fellow senior Anthony Gilberto chipped in 13. Tyler Hansbrough scored a game-high 35 points and pulled down 15 rebounds, four shy of his school record he set in last year's title showdown at Charleston. His brother, Ben Hansbrough finished with 17 points and 10 assists.
Marcus Biles scored 23 points before fouling out with just over a minute left. Ashton Farmer, who also fouled out earlier in the quarter, finished with 16 while Trentez Lane added 17 and George Rigney added 11 off the bench for Charleston. Biles picked up his third foul with 3:11 in the first half as Poplar Bluff led 47-28 at the break.
"That hurt us a little because Biles is our guy to make everything happen," coach Farmer said. "We had to sit him down awhile - it hurt us some but the biggest thing that hurt us was the slow start."
Poplar Bluff never trailed, getting a quick jumper by Brad Chronister just nine seconds after the opening tip.
Hansbrough gave the Mules an 11-4 lead on his 1-handed dunk that brought the standing-room only crowd to its feet.
Brown knocked down a 3 with a hand in his face with 3:20 left in the opening frame to extend the lead to 12. Fellow senior Glen Yandell's turn-around jumper pushed the lead to 15 before Charleston ended a 14-0 run.
The Mules led 23-8 after the first quarter and went up by 19 after an intentional foul briefly knocked Hansbrough out of the game with blood on his jersey. He returned less than a minute later and pushed the lead to 38-18 on a dunk with 3:10 left in the half.
"I knew Hansbrough would do what he did but I didn't think those outside guys would shoot as well," Farmer said. "They really shot the ball well."
Poplar Bluff hit 64.2 percent of their shots but held off a furious rally by the Bluejays in the second half. Biles pulled Charleston within 10 with 3:46 left in the third quarter and Joshua Strayhorn rattled home a 3 in the closing minute of the third quarter to cut the deficit to eight. The Bluejays hit 6-of-10 3-pointers and scored 11 of their 22 points off Poplar Bluff turnovers in the third quarter.
Charleston answered with a 15-4 run thanks to their full-court defensive pressure. Rigney's bucket in the paint with 1:14 left cut Poplar Bluff's lead to 91-85 but the Mules held on for their first SEMO title since 2001 when they shared it with New Madrid.
"We haven't had a battle like that the whole year," Farmer said. "We wanted to see how we would respond to it (and) even in the losing effort, we feel like a winner tonight."
Just over 2,700 packed into Peters Gym where the Mules have not lost since February 2001. Fans had to be turned away by halftime of the junior varsity game and neither team disappointed.
"I couldn't believe it, it was unbelievable - I didn't expect that crowd," Farmer said. "I think it lived up to the hype, I thought it was a very exciting game."