(Photo by Josh Mills, Staff)
FARMINGTON -- The New Madrid County Central Eagles' playoff push came to an abrupt halt on Saturday afternoon at the hands of the Maplewood-
Richmond Heights Blue Devils, 59-52. The Farmington Civic Center was nearly filled to capacity as the two teams came in battling for a spot at the coveted Final Four appearance in Columbia.
From the opening tip, it looked as if the Blue Devils would control all aspects of the game, as standout Bryant Allen and his squad jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead.
With 3:30 left to play in the first quarter, the Eagles finally broke the drought on a basket by Josh Minner to make the score 12-2.
Just under two minutes later, however, the young NMCC team had chipped away at the lead, and on a shot made by Lance Price, the Eagles cut the lead to 14-10. The score remained there until the second quarter began play.
Toni King opened the second quarter with a field goal, but quickly Minner hit a free-throw, followed by a Dontre Jenkins 3-pointer to pull within three, 17-14.
With the Eagles down by three, it was Maplewood's Allen once again, rattling off seven unanswered points to extend the lead for the Blue Devils back to 10 points, 24-14.
Minutes later, with time winding down on the clock and NMCC trailing by 10 points yet again, 32-22, Jenkins provided some pre-halftime drama with a fade-away 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Eagles were behind at the break, 32-
In the second half, NMCC lit the scoreboard up first with two points off of free-throws by Kony Ealy, only to be answered by Allen with a field goal.
At 2:05, Ealy scored his second field goal in a row to help the Eagles pull back within three, 37-34.
To end the third quarter, Maplewood's Darius Washington dropped in a basket for two points, followed by two free-throws from Minner for NMCC to leave the score 39-36 heading into the fourth.
The final eight minutes began on a sour note for the Eagles as Travis Howard, Allen and Les Williams rattled off three straight field goals, building the Blue Devil lead to 45-36 with 6:40 left to play.
The Eagles put together a string of consecutive free-throws, but Howard matched the two points with shots from the charity stripe as well.
With just under four minutes to play in the game, Price cut the lead to four, 47-43. Allen once again had the answer for Maplewood, adding two free-
throws to push the score back to 49-43.
After a few back-and-forth baskets by each team, Minner hit a jumper with 1:54, as NMCC pulled within four, 51-47.
Seconds later, the Blue Devils had returned the favor with two points, but Jenkins came through in a big way with another huge 3-point basket, leaving the Eagles within three, 53-50.
NMCC could only muster up two more points, while Maplewood had six more points left in them as they held on tight for the victory 59-52.
The Eagles finished up the season 17-11, in head coach Travis Day's second season with the green and gold.
"As far as effort, we gave our effort out," said Day after the NMCC loss. "They hit our Achilles heel. I've known all along that if a team would pressure us for 32 minutes then we'd struggle. That's what they did -- they found our Achilles heel and took advantage of it."
Jenkins led the way for the Eagles with 19 points, adding four steals in the game. Ealy was right behind with 16 points, pulling down 12 rebounds for NMCC.
Price fouled out in the contest, but not before recording 11 points and nine rebounds.
"They shut us down, but I think also, we helped them," Day said of the Maplewood defense. "We started doing stuff that wasn't in our character. We panicked and started doing stuff that just wasn't us."
On the outlook for the 2008-2009 campaign, Day said that the future is bright for the Eagles.
"As far as nucleus, we've got our nucleus coming back," said Day. "When you go from 5-21, to 17-11, and one or two turnovers away from going to the state playoffs, that's what I told the kids, I can't ask for anymore."
The Eagles lose Justin Beasley, D'Shaun Howard, Lance Price, Cory Rowe and Eddie Macklin to graduation.
Maplewood's junior point guard, Allen, who is being recruited by teams such as Memphis, Louisville, Clemson, Arkansas, Marquette and Missouri, provided the bang for the Blue Devils with 27 points and seven rebounds.
Allen said after the game that his club has things headed in the right direction and that the Blue Devils have a pretty good team coming back next season as well.
Howard said after the game that NMCC's feisty defense made it difficult to get a shot off.
Head coach for Maplewood, Corey Frazier, a Charleston native, said that the game was a battle for both teams.
"We needed this," said Frazier of the victory. "We've been doing things that a lot of people have mistaken us for. We needed to play a close game in post-
season, and grind it out. We figured it out today -- we can play any style of basketball and we want to continue doing it."
Frazier went on to say that the game plan was simple heading into Saturday's contest.
"We wanted to go after the heart of the team, and that's Kony Ealy," said Frazier. "We wanted to make sure that we could contain him as much as we possibly could. The wrap on us, is that we can't guard the post. It was good for us to contain him today."
The Blue Devils (26-4) now advance to the Final Four in Columbia, where they will face-off against Hogan Prep (24-4) on Thursday at 7:50 p.m.