Class 1 State SEMIFINAL
COLUMBIA -- Every blow of the whistle in the second half of Friday's Class 1 semifinal boys basketball game seemed to help previously undefeated LaPlata stay with Bell City, but the Cubs eventually pulled away for an 82-60 win at Mizzou Arena.
Bell City (28-4) extended its winning streak to 24 games and will face Jefferson at 4:30 p.m. today in a rematch of last year's championship game.
Bell City led 38-29 at halftime, but the Cubs were called for 10 fouls in the first 6 minutes of the third, including the third foul on 6-foot-10 senior Will Bogan. A lead which was as big as 48-37 in the third shrank to 48-46.
Cubs coach Brian Brandtner looked to be in disbelief as every call seemed to go against his team. A scowling look and an untucked shirt showed his displeasure.
"My shirt was a little tight inside so I had to loosen it up a little," Brandtner said with a laugh. "Breaks were going against us, but that's just the game of basketball."
Thanks to a tenacious defense, the Cubs were able to survive LaPlata's run, and by the end of the third quarter the Cubs were back ahead 57-48. The lead would not go below nine points the rest of the game.
"It was a team effort," Cubs junior Phillip Gross said. "We just tried to stay calm and regroup and get things done, and that's what we did."
For many of the players on the court for the Cubs, this was the second or third time making the trip to Columbia. Bell City has played in four straight final fours.
"Being here before really helped," junior Marty Dames said.
The Cubs were up 65-55 when they finally struck the decisive blow.
Senior reserve guard Austin Segers' perimeter defense forced steal after steal -- six of them during a span of nearly 4 minutes -- and Bell City beat the Bulldogs down the floor in transition during a 15-0 run. That spree put the game out of reach at 80-55.
Segers finished with eight of Bell City's 19 steals. Sophomore Melvin Johnson added six.
"I think he's great off the bench," Brandtner said. "He's a clutch player."
Brandtner touted his team's defense as its greatest weapon coming into the game, and the Cubs lived up to his praise on the defensive side. Bell City forced 26 turnovers and held LaPlata to just 34.5 percent shooting from the field. The Bulldogs (29-1) came into the game with more than 250 3-
pointers, but hit just six of 30 attempts.
David and Matt Fouch, LaPlata's top two 3-point threats, were a combined 4-
for-15 from beyond the arc. Matt Fouch fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.
"That's been our game all year," Brandtner said. "We've had a lot of wins where we haven't shot the ball well. Defense, that's carried us this season.
"Everyone I talked to has said what a good 3-point shooting team they are. They have some unbelievable shooters. We really worked to try to push them out as far as possible and make them uncomfortable. When they came off the screen, they had to run more."
Defense was not Bell City's only weapon on Friday. Bogan was simply dominant. The senior center scored a game-high 26 points and added 21 rebounds. The rebounding mark -- more than LaPlata's team total (20) -- was tied for the fifth-highest single game mark in state final four history.
Scott County Central great Otto Porter holds the record with 25.
"He's up there around 20 rebounds and 25 points a game," Brandtner said.
"Everyone who saw him play last year saw a big guy, a big fat kid. He's still a big kid, but this year I think he's such a better player. He moves well. He's more of a presence on both ends."
LaPlata was certainly impressed. The Bulldogs had no player listed at 6-4 or taller and the heaviest player is listed at 196 pounds. Bogan, who has committed to Southeast Missouri State, tips the scale around 300 pounds.
"I've seen Shaquille O'Neal on TV, that's about as big as I've seen," LaPlata coach David Fouch said when asked if he'd seen a player this season Bogan's size. "Nothing we tried worked [against him]. We tried to deny him and he got the ball. We tried to double him and he did a great job reading the defense."
Added LaPlata forward Mike Eitel: "You can't even describe it. We don't see anything like that in northeast Missouri. He's phenomenal."
Bell City was able to open a double-digit lead in the opening half thanks to its free throw shooting. The Cubs drove aggressively to the basket, and in turn shot 15 free throws before the half. Bell City hit 13 of 15 in the opening half, and finished 22 of 27 from the line for 81.5 percent.
Segers and Nick Niemczyk were each six of eight from the line, Gross hit all four of his attempts and Bogan was four for five.
"The first half we put them on the line way too many times, but I'm not sure what you do different than that," David Fouch said.
LaPlata's greatest success likely came with its pressure defense, which forced 31 Bell City turnovers. Johnson, playing in his first final four, committed eight turnovers, as did Niemczyk. Those turnovers kept things close early, and even helped the Bulldogs jump out to a 9-3 lead before Bell City got on track.
Niemczyk, who struggled mightily at last year's final four, finished with 19 points for Bell City. Gross added 16 points and Segers had 10.
David Fouch had 11 points for the Bulldogs and Jordan Smith had 10.