Despite being fully healthy for the first time since early December, the Bulldogs still found a way to lose on Tuesday night, falling to SEMO Conference rival Jackson, 65-64 at the Field House.
The loss most likely knocks the Bulldogs out of the conference title race.
But worst yet, the Bulldogs seem to be spinning their wheels without much improvement since a monumental victory at Charleston on Jan. 5.
Despite sloppy play on Tuesday night, the Bulldogs were still in prime position to win the game, leading by nine points twice in the fourth quarter.
A head-scratching rash of missed breakaway layups combined with untimely turnovers and breakdowns on defense led to a 13-3 run by the Indians to close out the game.
"We had the lead, but we didn't handle the situation very well down the stretch," said Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield. "We missed a lot of open looks. That's part of the game. We've got to handle things better, and hopefully by the district tournament we'll do that."
Jackson's Jake Leet gave the Indians their first lead since the mid-point of the second quarter with a 3-pointer with 1:45 left in the game.
The trey capped an Indian 11-0 run.
Sikeston's Ray Rodgers, who struggled in his first game back after missing nine games with a broken hand, drove down the middle of the lane and scored a conventional 3-point play to give the Bulldogs a 64-63 lead with 1:26 left.
Jackson (14-6, 4-1 SEMO Conference) took the lead for good at 65-64 on an inside basket by Antonio Garritano with 1:10 left.
After a Bulldog turnover, Jackson ran some clock but turned it over themselves with 29 seconds left in the game.
Sikeston (9-7, 2-2 SEMO) ran some clock and called its final timeout with 12 seconds left. The Bulldogs passed it in to senior guard Blake Taylor, who had the ball knocked loose. After a mad scramble for the ball, Jackson forced a jump-ball and took possession with eight seconds left.
The Sikeston coaches were visibly upset that a foul wasn't called against Jackson.
Sikeston fouled Leet on the ensuing inbounds with 6.8 seconds. He missed the front end of a one and one, but Jackson's Hunter Grantham rebounded the miss and was fouled with 4.2 seconds left.
Grantham also missed the one-and-one, but Sikeston rebounded and couldn't get off a shot before time expired.
"Coach (Bobby) Knight has a famous quote, 'the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins the games,'" said Jackson coach Darin Scott. "I don't know if we made the fewest, but we didn't make the last mistake. I was proud of our effort to keep clawing, keep fighting, and find a way to win there at the end."
In addition to the wide open missed layups, the Bulldogs misfired on numerous other point-blank looks, albeit with the taller Jackson defense in the vicinity, but still shots that the Bulldogs usually make a living.
"We were just missing them," said Holifield. "You can't get any closer than we were. We were right there at the rim and you have to knock those shots down. It's kind of a fluke thing. It was almost unbelievable, because we missed four or five of them in the fourth quarter. I know that we'll make those the next game."
From the start of the game Sikeston battled foul problems.
Four of the Bulldogs starters picked up two fouls apiece and then Julian Beard and Rodgers each picked up their third fouls in the second quarter.
"We were trying to be aggressive and take it to them," said Scott. "Fortunately we were able to get them in foul trouble. That was a big part of the game."
But despite starters sitting the bench for extended periods, Sikeston trailed just 14-13 after one quarter.
The two teams had 10 lead-changes in the second quarter before the Bulldogs took a 35-33 lead into halftime.
After Jackson managed to tie the game at 37-37 in the third quarter, Sikeston went on a 10-0 run keyed by an eight-point stretch by Taylor to take a 47-37 lead, the Bulldogs' biggest of the night.
Although the Indians were able to keep the game from getting away from them, Sikeston still led 55-50 heading into the final frame.
Back-to-back baskets by Beard pushed the Bulldog lead up to nine points. Moments later, Beard had an offensive putback to again make it a nine-point game at 61-52.
But the Indians began their game-ending run from there.
Sikeston had no answer for Leet, who finished with a game-high 26 points despite an assortment of defenses, including a box-and-one to try to contain him.
"He had that look in his eye that he wanted the ball," said Scott of Leet.
Steven Spradlin had 11 points and Spencer Goodman followed up with 10 points for the Indians.
Sikeston's Michael Porter scored 21 points, had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots, but the all-state sophomore didn't score a point in the fourth quarter.
Beard followed up with 11 points. Taylor had 10 points. Isaac Porter led the Bulldogs with six assists.
Rodgers had three points and four rebounds in his return, but had trouble finishing, going 1-8 from the field.
Sikeston was just 27-62 (44 percent) from the field as a team. The Bulldogs had 14 turnovers.
Sikeston defeated Jackson 86-73 back in the SEMO Conference Tournament in December, but Scott said payback wasn't a factor on Tuesday.
"They're a great basketball team and coach Holifield does a great job," said Scott. "I wouldn't say it's revenge. We're just happy that we beat a really good basketball team."
Five of Sikeston's seven losses have come down to the wire. Three of those losses have come by two points or less.
It's a trend that Holifield hopes to reverse.
"We've got to play with the intensity that it takes to win a basketball game the entire night," said Holifield. "We're struggling with that right now. We've got to have players step up and decide that we're not going to lose games. I think that this particular group will do that, but we've got to get better in a lot of areas. I feel like they will bounce back and get the job done."
Sikeston will play at Kelly on Friday at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs return home on a rare Saturday afternoon game when they take on Portageville. Junior varsity action will start at approximately 3 p.m. following a varsity girls game.
The Sikeston J.V. team won its seventh straight game to improve to 10-3 on the season, beating Jackson 55-44 to avenge an earlier loss this year. The Bulldogs are also 4-0 in SEMO Conference play.
Sikeston raced out to an 8-0 lead and never trailed in the game.
The Bulldogs led 14-6 after one quarter and 24-18 at halftime. They took a 38-33 lead into the fourth quarter.
Sikeston was led by freshman Eli Jackson's 21 points, 15 rebounds, three steals and three assists.
Freshman Juqualin Wiggins had 12 points with five rebounds and six assists.
Jackson was led by Tommy Harlan's 12 points.
The Sikeston 8th grade team closed out its season on a losing note, falling to Jackson 25-23 in championship game of the Jackson Tournament.
Sikeston's 8th grade finished at 8-5.
"Even in a tough loss, the kids conducted themselves with class," said coach Kevin Self. "We played our hearts out. I think this team got better and better every game. These kids improved a lot, especially considering we lost some kids at the semester. We finished the season better than we started. The second half was better than the first half. I'm proud with the way they stuck together and improved each game."
In freshman ball, Sikeston lost to Cape Central 46-38 in the championship game of the Jackson Tournament to fall to 11-4 on the season.
The Bullpups were led by Niquavious Dixon's 15 points. Jarian Wims followed up with eight points.
Sikeston's freshmen will play New Madrid County Central today at 5 p.m. at the Field House.