(Photo by Chris Pobst, staff)
CAPE GIRARDEAU -- For the fifth straight year, the Charleston Bluejays have been seeded number one in the seMissourian Christmas Tournament, and for the fifth straight year, have been eliminated in the semi-final round. This year, the Bluejays fell to the number five seed Notre Dame Bulldogs Friday night. A 40 point performance by 6-8 senior Ryan Willen, helped propel the Bulldogs past Charleston in a close 70-67 final.
"We didn't adjust to the flow of the game quick enough," Bluejays head coach Danny Farmer said. "Each game is officiated a different way and that was an aggressive game and we was laying off too long before we could get aggressive."
"We didn't get aggressive soon enough, but the effort was there."
During the first period, Charleston had a tough time trying to contain Willen early on, as he had over half of Notre Dame's 20 first quarter points. Notre Dame went up 20-12 at the end of one.
The Bluejays did, however, start to climb back in the second quarter and actually tied the game at 24 with one minute left. They outscored the Bulldogs 12-6 in the second period to pull within only two at the half, 26-24.
After the break, Charleston started to turn up the pressure with their press, but Notre Dame and Willen began to pull away during the third quarter.
"They got the big guy in the middle and he gave us problems all night," Farmer said. "They didn't turn the ball over and he scored inside. We put the pressure on them, and they handled the pressure well."
Charleston found themselves down 47-38 with only the final quarter left to play.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Jays began to turn it around and cut the lead to seven points at the two minute mark. A 3-pointer by Brian Parham cut the Bulldogs lead to five with only 1:07 left to play.
With the Bulldogs leading 62-57 after the Parham 3-pointer, Charleston had no other option but to start fouling. Notre Dame answered by draining 6-8 free throws down the stretch to keep the lead at around six until late in the game. Jerquawn Sherrell made a deep 3-pointer with three seconds left in the game, only to reach the final score of 70-67.
"All I'm about is effort," Farmer said. "We want to keep playing hard all the time. We could have laid down, but we kept coming. We made it a three point game against a good team, because Notre Dame is a good team and they played a great game tonight."
If you were to ask the head coach of the number one seeded team in the seMissourian Christmas tournament about failing to reach the final round after five straight years of being the number one seed, he would tell you that, at least this year, they didn't deserve it.
"I don't even think we should have been seeded number one," Farmer said. "I think Notre Dame or Jackson should have been number one, in my opinion. I think we were number one because we won the SEMO conference tournament. We're young, we're over-achievers. We realize that we're over-
achievers. So, we want to keep pecking away."
On the other side, head coach of the Notre Dame Bulldogs, Paul Hale, had nothing but good things to say about his team and their opponent.
"It was a heck of an effort by both teams," Hale said. "Willen had an awful good game. We shot free throws good until the stretch, we about gave it to them down the stretch, but Charleston just didn't quit. They got a fine team."
"Danny's (Farmer) done a heck of a job with what he lost last year. This team here is just about as good as last years team. They're a formidable team and we feel very lucky to win.
Charleston was led by Donald Dixon who had 28 points and went 9-11 from the free throw line. Parham added 18.
Ryan Willen had a huge game with 40 points which led all scorers. Willen hit two 3-pointers and was 12-13 from the free throw line. Willen was the only Bulldog in double digits.
The two teams that Farmer thought was deserving of the number one seed, will hook up in the championship game.
"We'll show up and see what happens," Hale said. "It's going to be an uphill climb no matter who we play. We got to take it one at a time and try to get better every game.
The championship game is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start Saturday, with Notre Dame taking on Jackson.
When Jackson beat Scott City on Thursday to advance to the semifinals of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament, Hunter Grantham dominated first-half play while Jake Leet led the Indians in the second half.
It was the other way around Friday night when the Indians met Central in the semifinals at the Show Me Center.
Leet came out strong early, leading his team with 13 first-half points, and Grantham controlled play after the break with 13 second-half points as the No. 3 Indians rolled to a 59-47 win over the No. 7 Tigers.
Neither Grantham nor Leet said he planned out a role reversal.
"No, just all five of us come out there and play hard," Grantham said. "Just sometimes the boards go opposite where I am. ... The boards weren't falling good the first half and falling good the second half."
Grantham netted 18 points, Spencer Goodman poured in 16 and Leet added 15 to help the Indians advance to today's 7:30 p.m. championship game against Notre Dame. The Bulldogs moved on with a 70-67 win over Charleston.
"It's a great team," Central senior Chase Johnson said of Jackson. "They made shots that we didn't make. ... We were not trying to focus on one player. We were just trying to go out there and play our game. We have big men, too. It just came down to whose shots were going in and whose wasn't. They came to play good ball."
Leet played especially strong toward the end of the first and into the second quarter.
He nailed a 3-pointer at the end of the first to bring his team within one point at 10-9. Then he started off the second quarter by hitting another 3-point field goal from the corner to put the Indians on top 12-10.
Leet led his team with eight points, including hitting two 3-pointers, in the second period. His other 3-point basket came with 1 minute, 6 seconds before halftime to put the Indians ahead by seven at 23-16.
The SEMO?News Service contributed to this story.