CAPE GIRARDEAU -- For the third straight year, the No. 1-seed Charleston Bluejays failed to reach the final of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament.
The perennially-favored Bluejays, who own the most Christmas Tournament titles with 15, have not advanced to the final since 2002, the year of their last championship.
With an estimated 6,000 fans in attendance, the fifth-seeded Notre Dame Bulldogs used stifling defensive pressure to pull off the 79-64 upset over the Charleston Bluejays in the semifinal round at the Show Me Center on Thursday.
"The mental toughness edge goes to Notre Dame tonight," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "Notre Dame just wanted the game a lot more. They played hard, they made their free throws, they just did everything they had to do to win the game."
Notre Dame also had superior scoring balance with four players in double figures, while the Bluejays leaned heavily on the scoring of its stellar 6-foot
-5 junior post Jamarcus Williams, who finished with a game-high 30 points.
Notre Dame was led by 6-6 sophomore post Ryan Willen's 23 points.
Super-quick senior guards Frankie Ellis and Xavier Delph scored 17 and 15, respectively, while 6-3 senior forward Alex Ressel added 16.
Charleston's only other double-digit scorer was 6-3 junior forward Justin Clark with 10. Antonio Riggens and Tavis Hamilton chipped in with nine apiece.
In a ragged, turnover-filled start, both teams committed nine turnovers in the opening quarter. A late Notre Dame charge overcame a 7-2 deficit for a 15
-13 lead as the period expired.
As the game settled in, the offenses of both teams began to click in the second quarter, but turnovers still haunted the 'Jays, who turned it over seven more times. Charleston had 28 turnovers on the evening.
Notre Dame countered Williams' huge 20-point first half with Ressel (12) and Ellis (11), who combined for 23.
The ballhawking Ellis was a disruptive force on the defensive end, single-
handedly converting Charleston miscues into six points while creating several others.
Ressel's tip of a missed shot from about five feet at the buzzer lifted the Bulldogs to a 36-30 halftime edge.
Charleston, looking out of sync, opened the third quarter with three quick turnovers as Notre Dame grabbed the momentum for a 20-6 run to extend its lead to 56-36.
Charleston lost the turnover game, 8-2, and took a beating on the boards in the quarter as they trailed 64-51 going into the final period.
Said Farmer, "We didn't do the fundamentals, we didn't block out, we tried to press but we didn't cut the sidelines off to (set up) double teams. We just weren't there mentally."
The Bluejays drew to within 12 at 70-58 midway of the fourth quarter, but got no closer.
Notre Dame held a 12-point advantage at the free-throw line, hitting 19-of
-28, while Charleston went 7-of-9.
Charleston (9-3), obviously, felt the absence of one starter, Josh Thompson, out indefinitely with an injury, and the ineffectiveness of another, Shawn Sherrell, playing but hobbled with a nagging injury.
"Shawn is still not full strength, we don't have Josh at all and we really need him in that kind of game," said Farmer.
The Bluejays were forced to use two freshmen, Riggens and Jerquawn Sherrell, extensively.
"Our goal is to get them (young players) ready so we can maintain our level," added Farmer. "Year in and year out, we're one of the best in the state and that's the way we want to stay.
"We look at the season as practice games, trying to get ready for the district run, the way we do every year. That's what it's all about."
Charleston meets Bell City, 80-67 losers to Jackson, today at 6 p.m. in the third-place game.
Too big, too strong, too deep.
That was the story of the Class 5 Jackson Indians 80-67 win over the Class 1 Bell City Cubs in Thursday's semifinal.
"We just got our butts kicked," said Bell City coach Brian Brandtner.
However, the scrappy third-seeded Cubs never backed off. After falling behind 19-3 early in the first quarter, Bell City closed to 26-24 midway in the second period, holding the Indians to zero points for about a six-minute stretch at one point.
"I loved the way my guys played, we didn't give up," said Brandtner. "We came back and I thought we were going to jump into the driver's seat for a minute, but Jackson stopped that."
Jackson, the No. 2 seed, regrouped for a 37-28 halftime advantage.
"We went through a stretch where we were just playing, not taking what they were giving us," said Jackson coach Darrin Scott. "For us to be successful, we've got to be mentally sharp and execute."
Jackson led 55-45 after three quarters.
Nick Niemcyzk's four fourth-quarter treys weren't enough to get the Cubs back in it as Jackson, with its superior height, controlled the boards for multiple shot opportunities.
Niemcyzk finished with a team-high 23 points, the only Cub in double figures.
The much-anticipated battle of the big men, featuring Jackson's 6-11 Aaron Redecker and Bell City's 6-10 Will Bogan, was, basically, a standoff.
Redecker outscored Bogan 12-7.
It was Jackson's other big man, aggressive 6-6 sophomore Hunter Grantham, who did the most damage with a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds.
"They're deep," said Brandtner. "They can come at you with a bunch of big bodies."
Another Jackson sophomore, hot-shooting guard Jake Leet, lit the scoreboard for a game-high 25 points, including three from beyond the arc.
Kyle Pridemore added 15.
Other Bell City scoring contributions came from Kerry Lasters (9), Blaine Stewart (9), Phillip Gross (8) and Marty Dames (7).
Bell City faces Charleston for third place today at 6 p.m.
"You lose a tough game like we did tonight, then you have to gear up for a great team like Charleston," said Brandtner. "I hope we're capable of that." Jackson seeks its third straight Southeast Missourian Christmas
Tournament championship against, arguably, the tournament's biggest surprise Notre Dame tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Said Jackson's Scott, "If we handle their pressure and get some easy baskets, we'll be in good shape. If we don't and turn the ball over a lot, they're going to win. That's what it will come down to."
Things did not look good for Kelly at halftime of Thursday's fifth-place semifinal in the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament at the Show Me Center.
But the Hawks were still confident.
"Coach told us at halftime that we could come back," senior guard Brandon Ayers said.
Come back the ninth-seeded Hawks did, as they rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to upset fourth-seeded Central 63-58 and move into today's 4:30 p.m. game against Advance to decide fifth place.
"This is big for us," said Kelly coach Cory Johnson, whose squad graduated four starters from last year's team that reached the tournament championship game.
"We're not as talented as we were last year, but these kids really work and play hard."
Kelly (7-3) was led by Ayers, who poured in 28 points and fueled the Hawks' rally with 18 second-half points, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
Spencer Ayers, a burly senior center who is Brandon's older brother, added 17 points, 14 coming in the second half.
Central (6-5) led 38-19 late in the second quarter and 38-21 at the break.
But the Tigers were in serious foul trouble, and two starters eventually fouled out, including leading scorer Darnell Wilks.
Kelly pulled within 47-43 after three quarters, then finally went ahead for good at 55-54 as Brandon Ayers nailed a 3-pointer with 2:30 remaining.
Another Ayers 3-pointer 30 seconds later put Kelly up 58-54 and the Hawks hit enough free throws down the stretch.
Sophomore guard Jajuan Bell scored 17 points for Central and senior center David Deisher added 13, but junior forward Wilks was held to seven.
"We got into foul trouble. Darnell probably only played half the game, and we need him out there,"
Central coach Derek McCord said. "But give Kelly credit. They hit some big shots down the stretch."
Scott City utilized its size advantage to pull away from Oran in a 48-33 decision in a consolation semifinal Thursday in the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament at the Show Me Center.
The seventh-seeded Rams (4-4) did not allow more than nine points in any of the last three quarters as they pounded it inside to their post players.
Chase Seyer, Oran's 6-foot-5 forward and one its leading scorers, was shut out in the first half and finished with eight points.
Hunter Glastetter scored 12 points and was the only player to reach double figures for 14th-seeded Oran (3-5).
Scott City's Ethan Watkins led all scorers with 14 points, and Alex King added 13 for the Rams.
Scott County Central opened up a 21-6 first-quarter lead and dominated No. 13 Woodland to earn a spot in the consolation championship.
Woodland's Seth Gaines scored a game-high 21 points, but Scott County Central had four players in double figures and finished with 32 field goals compared to Woodland's 15.
The eighth-seeded Braves (5-4) were led by Caleb Johnson's 20 points. D.D. Gillespie and Drew Thomas scored 14 apiece, and Pershard Owens added 12.
Chantz Barham scored 11 points and Jeremy Hutson added 10 for the Cardinals (3-6).
Sixth-seeded Advance got its running game going and scored 72 points over the final three quarters to pull away after trailing by 10 points early.
Alex Steil led the Hornets (6-4) with 29 points. Also in double figures were Adam Baker with 14 points and Trenton Moses with 12.
The 10th-seeded Panthers (6-4) received 23 points from Anthony Bollinger, 15 from Heath Fulton and 10 from Michael Collier.
"We talked about getting up and down the floor," Advance coach Joe Shoemaker said. "We got a lot of easy baskets in transition."
Marty Mishow and Mark Unterreiner of the SEMO News Service contributed to this report.