(Photos by Josh Mills, Staff)
POPLAR BLUFF -- Determination. That was the word of the night for the New Madrid County Central Eagles, as they won their first sectional basketball game since the 2002 season, defeating the Doniphan Dons 46-43.
NMCC jumped out to the first lead of the game as Dontre Jenkins stopped in the paint for two points. The Dons quickly followed with two of their own, but the Eagles extended the lead 8-4.
With the lead in NMCC's favor halfway through the first quarter, Doniphan went on a 9-0 run, going up 13-8 before the clock had expired in the opening period.
The Eagles bounced back to start the second quarter, but quickly saw the lead expand to a nine-point deficit, 21-12, with just over four minutes to play in the half.
After the break, NMCC began to steadily show the determination that would keep them within striking distance of the Dons.
Tyler Collins scored six of his 11 points in the third quarter, but Ealy couldn't be contained in the first eight minutes of the second half as he poured in 11 points for the Eagles. NMCC cut the lead to three going into the final quarter, 32-29.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles fell behind by five points, but then began to put on a defensive clinic.
The leading scorer for Doniphan, Charles Wilson, could only muster up six points in the final eight minutes, while it was a team effort for NMCC as they outscored the Dons 17-11 in the fourth, getting many points off of turnovers.
Jenkins hit a momentum-swinging 3-pointer in the fourth with 4:45 on the clock, and from there the Eagles went up 41-38 on a Lance Price jumper.
The two teams would exchange the lead over the next couple of minutes until Ealy was fouled after a steal, and sent to the line for two free throws. He was clutch at the line, and provided a narrow 3-point lead for NMCC with around nine seconds to play.
The Dons in-bounded the ball and quickly passed over to Collins on the wing where he launched an unsuccessful 3-point attempt. The ball was then ruled out-of-bounds, off of one of the Eagles, giving Doniphan one last chance.
With literally one second on the clock, it was Collins again from the wing, where he once again failed to connect, giving the victory to NMCC.
"You know what, this was one of the best defensive games that I've seen in a long time," said NMCC head coach Travis Day after the victory. "Doniphan is one heck of a team. Those guys can flat-out get after it defensively. And, they've got an awesome offense. They run their offense to a T."
Day gave credit to his squad's endurance, saying that he felt as if his club gradually wore down the Don's offensive-minded game.
"Their shots started coming up short," said Day. "We started getting the boards."
Day said that at the break, he told his team that they weren't playing the style of basketball that they've been accustomed to throughout the season.
"In the second half we woke up and started playing like we were capable of playing," he added.
For the Eagles, Ealy led the way with 24 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Price was the only other NMCC player in double-figures with 10 points. Josh Minner also chipped in with five rebounds and two blocks in the victory.
"They were pretty tough," said Minner, commenting on the Doniphan team. "Especially the twins. That's who we had to maintain because they were good shooters."
Minner went on to say that the defense of the Dons was extremely difficult to break down and that he thinks the Eagles haven't hit their full potential just yet.
On the losing end, Doniphan was led by one of the twins, Charles Wilson, who racked up 17 points and 10 rebounds, while playing in foul trouble throughout the entire second half. Collins chipped in with 11 points, while Greg Davis recorded six rebounds.
"I'm proud of our kids for battling," said Doniphan head coach Jason Andrews after the loss. "I thought we really fought hard, but there was a couple of fundamental things we didn't do at the end. We missed a couple of key rebounds and a couple of free throws."
"I give New Madrid credit," he added. "They were physical and got after it. They never gave in, and I wish them the best of luck."
NMCC (17-10), now moves to quarterfinal action where they will face-off against Maplewood-Richmond Heights (25-4), who defeated Crystal City by a score of 71-45 Wednesday night in Hillsboro.
The quarterfinal contest will take place at the Farmington Civic Center, Saturday at 2:45 p.m.