The Charleston Bluejays (13-4), ranked ninth in Class 3, took control late for a 78-62 win over the Class 1 Scott Central Braves in front of a packed house at Charleston's Homecoming on Friday night.
The undersized Braves (5-9) trailed by seven at the half and by only six early in the fourth quarter.
"For our kids to play like that against a quality team like that, I'm very proud of the effort," said Scott Central coach David Heeb.
Coach Danny Farmer realizes that his tradition-rich Charleston program and its reputation of success precedes them each and every time they step on the court.
"Everybody seems to play their best against us," he said. "Scott County played a good game. I've watched them three times and that's the best I've seen them play. We have to be ready and we have to be focused every time out."
Farmer was disappointed with his team's focus and intensity at the game's outset.
"I was a little disappointed in our first half (play)," said Farmer. "We need more intensity. We're too laid back. We've got to come out with a lot of intensity because we're going to play people who play with a lot of intensity."
Scott Central, with no returning starters and coming in on a four-game losing streak, matched the Bluejays tit-for-tat in the opening quarter.
Sophomores D. D. Gillespie and Caleb Johnson, the Braves tallest starter at 6-
foot-1, had six points each for Scott Central while senior guard Tavis Hamilton -- two 3-pointers -- and 6-5 junior post Jamarcus Williams and 6-3 junior forward Justin Clark chipped in with four each for the Bluejays.
Charleston led 18-16 as the period expired.
Williams, one of the area's premier players, struck for 11 points including a 3-pointer, in the second quarter to guide the Bluejays to a 39-32 halftime advantage.
Charleston extended its lead to 47-37 with about six minutes left in the third quarter, before a 6-0 run by the Braves cut the margin to four at 47-43. Off the bench, Scott Central sophomore Richard Brownlee counted four of the six points.
Charleston's height advantage began to tell late in the quarter as they simply outmanned the shorter Braves for second and third shot opportunities or trips to the free-throw line.
Five points from Williams and four from 6-4 junior forward Jerrell Quinn in the closing minutes of the third quarter lifted the Bluejays to a 59-48 lead.
But, again the scrappy Braves battled back to trim the lead to six at 59-53 with about six minutes left.
"We've gotten better every week, every day, and, if we can keep improving, I believe in these guys," said Heeb. "I believe that we're going to turn the corner. We're close.
"Absolutely, we grew up tonight. Tonight was the first time that I felt like we made an effort to pick ourselves up against a good team. When we missed a shot, we had guys fighting for the rebound. When we turned it over, we had guys running back (down the floor). We didn't just give Charleston anything tonight and that's what you look for."
With the score at 63-55, a Hamilton 3-pointer ignited a 15-7 stretch run by Charleston. Williams tallied eight of his game-high 28 points during the run. "We turned it up in the second half," said Farmer.
"That's what we wanted to do at the beginning of the game, but Scott County had an answer. We hung in and got the win. That's the most important thing."
Behind Williams 28 points, the Bluejays got 14 from junior point guard Shawn Sherrell, 12 from Hamilton -- all on 3-pointers -- and 11 from Clark.
Sherrell, slowed by injury for the past month, looked like his old self and Josh Thompson, completely sidelined for a month, turned in quality minutes.
"Shawn gave us some good time and Thompson played a lot tonight," said Farmer. "He (Thompson) played a great game, for the most part, on one leg."
Thompson scored only two points but contributed in other ways, the intangibles such as steals, deflections, rebounds.
Scott Central received strong games from Johnson with 19 and Gillespie with 18 points.
Charleston was near perfect with 11-of-12 from the charity stripe, while Scott Central shot well, also, 70 percent on 14-of-20.
Scott Central edged the Charleston junior varsity 59-57 on Toby Heeb's game-winning basket.
Drew Thomas led the Braves with 17; Heeb and Brownlee added 13 apiece.
Donald Dixon, Nick Johnson and Jerquawn Sherrell were Charleston's scoring leaders with 13, 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Scott Central, the No. 3 seed, returns to action against Delta, the sixth seed, in the Scott-Mississippi Conference Tournament at Chaffee on Tuesday at 8:
Charleston has a two-week layoff before hosting Kennett on Jan. 27.