METROPOLIS, Ill. -- For the first time in 11 years, the Sikeston Bulldogs will be competing in the winner's bracket of the Superman Classic.
Since taking first place in the tournament in 1995, Sikeston had not won a first round game in the event.
They ended the dubious trend on Tuesday night when they defeated Chicago Wheaton Academy 76-70 at Massac County High School.
The Bulldogs (9-3) will play the winner of the Massac County-Hopkinsville game on Friday night at 8 p.m. in the semifinals. That game was scheduled to be played immediately after Sikeston's game on Tuesday but Hopkinsville couldn't make the trip due to inclement weather. The game has been rescheduled for tonight.
Tuesday's game saw Sikeston's Julian Beard and Rod Moore have career nights in scoring. Beard had a career-high 28 points while Moore finished with 26 points. Both are also Bulldog season-highs in individual scoring.
"They both really played well -- they picked us up," said Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield.
Sikeston was also stellar from the charity stripe, knocking down 26-of-29 free throws, including a perfect 10-for-10 in the fourth quarter.
"That's one of our strengths and we know that going in," said Holifield of his team's free throw shooting. "We're very confident in that area. If we have a lead late in the game we feel good about our situation because we know we can knock them down."
The Bulldogs needed every one of them as Wheaton was forced to foul late in the game.
With Sikeston leading 68-66, Sikeston hit eight straight free throws in the final 29 seconds to ice the victory.
For the first time in the tournament's history, teams received seeds instead of being paired. Sikeston garnered the No. 3 seed while Wheaton was seeded sixth.
But the private school looked anything but an underdog on Tuesday.
"I thought they were a quality team," said Holifield. "I could tell right away that we had our hands full with them. They were as well-oiled offensively as any team we played all season. They're big and they shoot the basketball extremely well. I thought they were a quality team."
Wheaton Academy (8-9) actually led for most of the game. The Warriors fell behind 8-4 in the early going but managed to take a 19-16 lead after one quarter behind a balanced scoring attack.
The Warriors led by as much as 24-16 early in the second quarter which marked either team's biggest lead of the game.
The Bulldogs managed to hang around for the rest of the quarter, cutting the lead to 37-35 by halftime.
Wheaton Academy hit five 3-pointers in the first half and had eight different players reach the scoring column by halftime.
But the second half was a different story.
While Wheaton continued to score, the perimeter shooting went cold. They only hit one 3-pointer in the second half.
"We're a pretty good 3-point shooting team and that's what we do," said Andy Euler. "You miss sometimes. But we stayed in the game. We were slicing through them too. I don't know if anybody was playing defense. They did a good job in the end and they hit the free throws. That was important."
Sikeston briefly took the lead in the third quarter as they started the period on a 5-0 run to lead 40-37.
But the Warriors responded with a 9-0 run to take a lead they would hold until the fourth quarter.
Wheaton Academy led 58-55 heading into the fourth quarter.
The two teams battled in the fourth quarter with three ties and five lead changes.
Wheaton Academy missed some crucial free throws down the stretch, going 3-for-6 at one stretch.
"We missed some free throws," said Euler. "We were 8-for-14 and we missed some one-and-ones too. That was it, as far as I'm concerned."
Sikeston took the lead for good on an off-balance Moore shot to give the Bulldogs a 68-66 edge.
"We had trouble with them -- they're a good penetrating team," said Euler. "In the second half we switched to a different defense. We call it a 'pack' defense. We tried to pack it in a little bit. It helped a little bit. But they hit some circus winners too. That might be skill. I've seen people have skill hit some of those shots."
Wheaton Academy's Benjamin Euler hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 72-70 with 15 seconds left, but Sikeston's Blake Taylor sank both ends of a one-
and-one free throw situation with 13 seconds left to seal the victory.
"Sikeston was a good team in terms that they slice to the basket well," said Euler. "I thought in the second half we did a better job of stopping them. But the reality is we didn't hit free throws. That's been an Achilles heel for us."
Sikeston out-scored Wheaton 21-12 in the fourth quarter.
Holifield said the difference in the second half was his team's pressure defense.
"We picked our pressure up and we forced some turnovers," said Holifield. "Plus I thought we hurt them on the boards in the second half and we were a lot more aggressive. We just took care of our opportunities when we got them offensively. We had pretty good shot selection. We had two or three big defensive stops and had some big boards to put ourselves in a position to win the game."
In addition to his big scoring night, Beard also had seven rebounds. He was 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
Moore added seven rebounds and four assists.
Kash Bratcher had 10 points with five rebounds and four assists. Isaac Porter had five points and six rebounds.
Taylor came off the bench and hit all five of his free throw attempts.
The Bulldogs needed the extra scoring as freshman Michael Porter has been forced to sit out the Superman Classic due to MSHSAA rules stating he's played in too many tournaments.
He also played in the Notre Dame J.V. Tournament the first week of the season. Porter will be eligible for every game of the season after the Classic.
"I thought the entire bench played well also," said Holifield. "We rotated a lot of people in and out. It was a total team effort tonight against a quality opponent. It's really a difficult tournament with tough opponents. To get into the winner's bracket is a nice feat for us. We know we'll have a difficult opponent Friday night with either Hopkinsville or Massac County. We'll have to be prepared and ready to play."
Jeremy Parker had 16 points and Nate Williams had 15 points to lead Wheaton.