(Photos by Chris Moore, Staff)
SIKESTON -- While the SEMO Conference Tournament semifinal games didn't prove to be the barnburners everybody had hoped, the championship matchup that everybody expected will become a reality.
Top-seeded Sikeston raced past No. 4 Jackson 86-73 while second-seeded Charleston rolled over No. 3 Notre Dame 76-63 on Thursday night at the Sikeston Field House.
Sikeston and Charleston will seek SEMO Conference supremacy in the tournament's inaugural year tonight at 8:30 p.m. Notre Dame will play Jackson for third place at 7 p.m. The first game of the night will pit Poplar Bluff and Cape Central in the consolation championship at 5 p.m.
The championship game will feature arguably the top two teams in Southeast Missouri, with the winner having bragging rights until at least January, when the two teams meet again.
The Bulldogs got out and ran the floor against the bigger, but slower Indians -- and Jackson couldn't keep up.
Sikeston answered Jackson's full-court press with an all-too-simple play, the baseball pass.
"We gave them too many easy baskets," said Jackson coach Darrin Scott. "They leaked a guy out deep and they threw the baseball pass and shot layups on us. We've got to get better at getting back and taking away the easy baskets."
With all-state forward Michael Porter battling foul problems for most of the night, Sikeston needed a big game out of somebody.
They got it from all-state guard Julian Beard, who had a season-high 23 points with five steals.
"He had open looks and he knocked down some tough shots too," said Holifield. "That's the first real good game he's played so far. He's had a foot injury that's kind of slowed him a little bit, but he looked more healthy tonight than he has."
After the two teams went through seven lead changes and seven ties in the first quarter, Sikeston finished the opening period strong with five straight points to lead 25-20.
The Bulldogs never trailed again as they continually extended the lead in the second and third quarters.
Sikeston (3-1) led by as much as 40-27 late in the second quarter, but Jackson (4-1) managed to trim the lead to 42-34 heading into halftime.
The Bulldogs took control of the game in the third quarter, leading by as much as 18 at 63-45. Jackson scored back-to-back baskets, but a Beard fadeaway 3-pointer as time expired in the third pushed Sikeston's lead to 66-49.
Sikeston still appeared to be in good shape midway through the third quarter, leading 74-60 with 5:08 left, but Jackson had one last gasp.
The Indians went on a 9-2 run and twice cut the lead to seven points with less than four minutes left in the game, but Sikeston was able to run some clock off and eventually iced it from the free throw line, making eight straight in the final 1:48.
"Jackson is relentless -- they just wouldn't go away," said Holifield. "They just kept pounding and pounding -- that was a good basketball team we beat tonight. They're going to win a lot of basketball games and you're going to see them go a long way in state play. They have a lot of weapons and one of their better ones, the (Spencer) Goodman kid, didn't even play tonight."
Bulldog junior guard Matt Ritch scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. He was 9-9 from the free throw line and had four assists.
Senior forward Ray Rodgers had 14 points and five rebounds. Senior Isaac Porter had 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
"Isaac played a complete game as always," said Holifield. "He just takes care of business. He doesn't turn it over much, he defends, he rebounds -- he does a little bit of everything."
Junior forward Brandon Washington also give Sikeston a lift off the bench, scoring five points with six rebounds and three steals.
Michael Porter, despite the limited minutes, still managed 13 points, five rebounds and four steals before fouling out.
The Bulldogs recorded a whopping 19 steals among Jackson's 23 turnovers.
"We made some turnovers in bunches -- when you do that, that allows the other team to make a run," said Scott.
Sikeston had problems matching up with Jackson's size in the paint as 6-
foot-6 junior Hunter Grantham had a team-high 22 points.
Jake Leet had 15 points and Matt Lang added 11 points.
Sikeston had 16 turnovers and was 23-30 from the free throw line.
Jackson has had its way with Sikeston the past few years, including handing the Bulldogs a 64-50 loss last season.
Holifield said the players used it as motivation.
"We did not play well at all up there last year and Jackson played exceptionally well and they best us," said Holifield. "Our kids remember that and they wanted to come out and play well tonight."
The Bluejays avenged two losses from last season with a dominant third quarter against Notre Dame.
Charleston (5-0) trailed 12-10 after one quarter and continued to fight from behind for most of the second quarter, but the Bluejays scored four straight points to end the half to lead 30-29.
It was all Charleston would need to take control of the game.
The Bluejays went on a 17-0 run, counting the four in the first half, to put the game away for good in the third quarter to lead 43-29.
"We had to expend a whole lot of energy [in the first half] and we got tired," Notre Dame coach Paul Hale said. "I thought we were intimidated by their quickness and size, but we'll get over it. We'll learn from what we did tonight. We'll grow from this. That's what we needed. We got beat by a good basketball team."
Charleston took a 58-40 lead into the fourth quarter and were never threatened as they cruised to the victory.
"We didn't play so well in the first half, but we talked about it and made some adjustments at halftime and we came out and played the way we should play," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer. "We played two good quarters tonight. Our depth paid off for us. We played a lot of people and I think they got a little tired there at the end."
Thursday's game also marked the return of all-state forward Jamarcus Williams, who saw his first action after suffering a broken leg during football season.
Williams played sparingly, finishing with two points and three rebounds, but his strength in the paint was felt.
"He's not 100 percent, but his experience helps," said Farmer. "Just knowing he's out on the court, even as a decoy, it helps. He can't jump right now and that affects his shooting and his movement. I think he's about 75 percent right now."
Senior Justin Clark continued his outstanding play early in the season as he led the Bluejays with 23 points along with six rebounds.
Junior forward Brian Parham had 17 points and eight rebounds and provided the game's most spectacular play in the fourth quarter when he followed up a missed shot with a one-handed jam while being fouled.
Shawn Sherrell had 13 points with five rebounds, six assists and seven steals.
Senior forward Jerrell Quinn had 11 points and eight rebounds.
Charleston grabbed 37 rebounds in the game.
"I think we killed them on the boards," said Farmer. "We run four big guys in and out so we plan on beating people on the boards."
Even though Charleston won the game convincingly, careless turnovers continue to be problematic.
The Bluejays had 25 turnovers, including 18 in the first half.
But Notre Dame had its own problems taking care of the basketball, on top of a rough shooting night from the field.
Ryan Willen, a 6-7 junior, led Notre Dame with 21 points. Junior guard Ty Williams finished with 20 points.
"Everything started snowballing -- we couldn't get a basket and they got some easy ones," said Hale.