CAPE GIRARDEAU -- Once may be a fluke, twice may be unlucky, but four times may qualify as a trend.
For the fourth straight year as a top seed, the Charleston Bluejays again failed to reach the final of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament.
The Bluejays were defeated 52-46 by the fifth-seeded Bell City Cubs in the semifinal round on Friday night.
"We played a terrible game," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "We were lucky just to be in it as bad as we played. I think we took them lightly. In their (players) minds, the way they view Bell City, I think they thought they could just come out here and do anything and win."
Charleston (10-2), currently ranked No. 1 in Missouri's Class 3 poll, started and finished the game poorly. Bell City outscored the 'Jays 14-6 in the first quarter, then 23-11 in the decisive fourth.
Poor shooting -- 38 percent of 2-point attempts, 19 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, 40 percent from the free-throw line -- plagued the 'Jays throughout the evening.
"It was just one of those nights in basketball," said Farmer. "Two or three times a year, you come out and can't do anything. It was kind of weird because it happened the whole game, all 32 minutes. All you need to do is just come alive for five minutes."
A game rhythm eluded the 'Jays and their usually reliable 6-5 post Jamarcus Williams. Williams was held to nine points, spending chunks of minutes on the bench with foul trouble.
Farmer said, "Everything was just out of sync. We couldn't get anything out of Jamarcus and couldn't get the right combination out there."
But credit the Cubs for a smart defensive approach, switching defenses between man and zone.
"I've been watching this Charleston team play a few times this year and I thought they were the best team in the state of Missouri," said Bell City coach Brian Brandtner, "but I thought we were able to keep them off balance tonight. When Charleston is feeling comfortable and feeling good about the pace they want to play, they're as good as anybody in the state, no doubt about it. We wanted to try to take that away from them and, for the most part, we did a pretty good job."
Trailing 14-6 going into the second quarter, the Bluejays turned up their patented defense, holding the Cubs to five points in the period. Following a Phillip Gross' field goal at the 2-minute mark, the Cubs were held scoreless the remainder of the quarter.
Charleston's offense managed 13 points to forge a tie at 19 going into the halftime break.
"Our defense kept us in it and gave us a chance to win," said Farmer. "One thing that could come out of the loss is a stronger belief in the defense."
Charleston finished the third quarter with a 7-0 run to take a 35-29 edge into the final period. In the third, the Bluejays got seven of his nine total points from reserve guard Garyion Johnson and seven from Justin Clark, who finished with a team-high 14.
Bell City's 6-10 center Will Bogan almost singlehandedly kept the Cubs within striking distance with seven of their 10 points in the third, all three field goals off stickbacks.
"He's such an asset to have," Brandtner said of Bogan. "He's been playing so much harder this year, getting better position. When he gets his hands on it, he's going to get the basketball."
Bogan paced the Cubs with a game-high 15 points. Nick Niemcyzk contributed 12, Austin Seger 10 and Gross nine.
The Bluejays went stone cold from the field in the fourth quarter, scoring their first points with 3:21 to go.
Meanwhile, the Cubs retook the lead at 36-35 on sophomore Melvin Johnson's trey from the right corner. Shortly after, signaling it must be the Cubs' night, Seger knocked down a 3-point banker from the left wing to push Bell City ahead 39-35.
"In the second and third quarters, things got a little more physical and Charleston was able to push us back and get us on our heels," said Brandtner. "I'm so proud of our guys for being able to regroup and overcome that."
A Gross' field goal plus back-to-back 2- and 3- pointers from Niemcyzk upped the margin to 46-37 with about 1:30 remaining.
"If you let a team hang around, they're going to get confident and feel that they can beat you," Farmer said. "They started playing better at the end when it counted."
Two consecutive 3-pointers by the 'Jays cut the margin to 46-43, but the Cubs sealed the win from the charity stripe, hitting 6-of-10 free throws down the stretch.
"They just wanted it more," said Farmer. "They played a great game. I take my hat off to Bell City."
Brandtner, who led the Cubs to a second place finish last year in his first season at the school, stopped short of calling this his biggest win.
"You've got to count those postseason victories," he said, "but this is a huge win."
Bell City will make only its second appearance in the Christmas Tournament final. They were a runner-up 53 years ago, in 1953.
The Cubs take on No. 3-seed Jackson, 83-80 winner over No. 2 Notre Dame in the other semifinal, for the tournament crown on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Charleston vies for third place against Notre Dame at 6 p.m., also on Saturday.
Number three-seed Jackson handled two-seed Notre Dame's defensive pressure all night and Jake Leet handled the pressure of making late free throws as the Indians defeated the Bulldogs 83-80.
Jackson will now face Bell City in a surprising championship matchup Saturday night at the Show Me Center.
The game was close throughout as the team's exchanged leads numerous times. However, with his team in the lead and under a minute to go in the game, Jackson's Jake Leet hit 3 of 4 free throws and the Bulldogs were unable to get a possible game-tying shot off as time expired.
Leet was the game's leading scorer as he put up 20 points. Marcus Harris scored 19 for the Indians and Antonio Garritano added 14.
Notre Dame was led by Ryan Willen with 26 points. The Bulldogs received 17 points from both Abe Dirnberger and Ty Williams.
The sixth-seeded Advance Hornets recovered from a loss at the hands of Jackson to pound the seventh-seed Scott City Rams 69-54.
The outcome of the game was never in doubt as Advance earned an 18-6 lead after just one quarter and had a 20-point cushion by halftime.
Although Scott City outscored Advance in the third quarter, they would never challenge for the lead.
Alex Steil continued to play well in the tournament by putting up 20 points in the game while Trenton Moses scored 17.
The Rams were led by 17 points from Caleb Estes and 16 points from Jamie Pinkston.
In a game of two distinct halves, number four-seed Scott County Central narrowly defeated number nine-seed Oran 65-62.
The Braves of Scott Central jumped out to a 15-0 lead to begin the game looked to have the game in hand as they headed to the locker room up 19 points.
However, Oran emerged from the locker room a different team and would outscore Scott Central 45-29 over the course of the second half only to fall just short of victory.
The Eagles had a balanced scoring attack as they were led by Chris Asmus with 13 points, Robert Lange with 11 points and Kody Campbell, Chase Seyer and Hunter Glastetter all with 10.
Drew Thomas poured in a game-high 22 for the Braves and D.D. Gillespie added 19.
Kelly outscored Woodland 19-11 in the decisive fourth quarter of their semifinal consolation game to defeat the underdog Cardinals 71-64.
The Hawks had to come from behind to earn a chance to face Cape Central for the consolation championship on Saturday night. Woodland led the game by four points at halftime and held a slim one-point advantage heading into the final period.
Woodland fell behind early in the first quarter before going on an 8-0 run and forcing Kelly coach Corey Johnson to use a timeout.
The Cardinals maintained a marginal lead in the game for most of the second and third quarters before the physical game of Kelly caught up with them, said coach David Mirly.
"We were so exhausted at the end of the game that our shots were coming up short," he said but added, "I was proud of my guys for (their) effort."
Both coaches agreed that the fourth quarter also saw Woodland go cold from the field.
Said Johnson on the key to his team's late victory. "They finally started missing shots and we got a couple of rebounds. We didn't deserve that win. They outplayed us from start to finish and we just got lucky that they missed a few shots late."
Kelly may have found themselves unable to recover from their deficit had it not been for the superb shooting of Tyler Thurman.
The senior nailed eight three-point shots and was a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line in the final minutes of the game to help seal the victory for his team.
As a team, Woodland nailed an impressive 12 three pointers, including four from Seth Gaines, who was the team's leading scorer with 23 points. Chad Gaines added 13 points while Caleb Lee had nine.
Thurman paced Kelly with 28 points while teammates Dallas Tew, with 16 points, and Spencer Ayers with 15, both reached double figures.
Continuing a trend of blowout games at this year's Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament, the Cape Central Tigers disposed of the Chaffee Red Devils 65-28.
The Tigers, who got off to a slow start in their previous contest, shot and played well at the beginning of the game while Chaffee was the team that had trouble at the outset.
"They shot the ball extremely well in the first half and we shot the ball extremely poorly," summed up Chaffee coach Tyson Moyers accurately.
Central coach Drew Church was pleased with his team's start and the pace at which they played. "We want to play at a quick pace to catch other teams off guard. We want to try push the pace of the game, but on the other hand, we don't want to play too fast that we're out of control."
The under control Tigers used six first half three-point shots, three apiece from Jajuan Bell and Kerry Walker, to help them build a 21-point lead.
Before the end of the game Central would sink nine threes in all as the Red Devils, according to Moyers, could not repeat the strong performance they had against Meadow Heights, in part because they are just not used to consistently winning games.
"There is something to be said about tradition," said the coach, but he added that his team could be proud of reaching the tournament's third day, a goal they had set for themselves.
Church, meanwhile, said he can see his team improving.
"They continue to grow as a team and (their) unselfishness was just amazing today. Kids who are normally looking to shoot first are now looking to pass first, and that's going to be great for us."
Bell and Walker led Central in scoring for the game with 16 and 15 points, respectively, while teammates George Hamilton, Mondo Colon and Landon Evers all contributed 8 points.
Chaffee received 10 points from Andy Hendrix and six from Aaron Hopkins.
Some information provided by the SEMO News Service