(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- The New Madrid County Central Eagles were able to hold off the Poplar Bluff Mules with stout defense late in the SEMO Conference tournament semifinals round at the Sikeston Field House on Tuesday night in a 50-44 win.
With three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter and the Eagles down by one point, 43-42, Tyler Johnson came up with an offensive rebound and a put-back to give NMCC a one point lead. Johnson came up big again for the Eagles on their next possession at the 2:25 mark when he hit an jump shot from the baseline to give his team a three point lead.
After NMCC received the lead, defense held it together.
Poplar Bluff's ensuing possession was halted by a Kony Ealy steal and drive to the bucket to increase the deficit to five. The Mules were unable to convert a shot after Ealy's basket because of some tough pressure defense from the Eagles. Terry Young came down with the rebound after the missed shot and was fouled. Young hit his first from the one-and-one but missed the second.
As the Mules tried to move the ball up court in transition, the speedy Bryan Waters snatched a pass at the 1:05 mark to stop another Mules possession.
After Waters missed a free throw, Jay Raulston ended Poplar Bluff's 2 1/2 minute scoring drought with an offensive rebound and a score to make it a 48-44 game with 31.2 seconds left in regulation.
Ealy was fouled on the inbounds play and was sent to the line where he hit both of his free throws to make it a six point lead for the Eagles. Dontre Jenkins sealed the game with another steal for the Eagles with less than 20 seconds left to play. Jenkins was immediately fouled after that, but missed his one and only attempt. But, Ealy grabbed another steal with time dwindling down to confirm the Eagles victory and drove up the floor for a celebratory dunk to finish the game but, he missed. Twice. Still yet, the Eagles managed to hang on for the win and head to the conference championship game.
"You've got to be happy because you beat some quality teams to make it to the championship game," NMCC head coach Travis Day said.
One thing that Day did not like to see from his Eagles was the rebounding advantage that the Mules had. Especially on the offensive end.
Out of 24 total rebounds that the Mules pulled down, 15 of them were on the offensive glass.
"To me, we gave up way too many offensive boards," Day said. "We made some silly mistakes that we shouldn't have made. But, when you can still pull out a win over a quality team like that, I like that. We didn't get our head down and we kept fighting. Everytime they made a run at us we answered."
The Eagles were out-rebounded 24-21, but did win the very important turnover battle 21-15.
"Our biggest thing is that we don't have a lot of turnovers, we just have them at the wrong time," Day said. "But, we did better at controlling the game and that's what I wanted to do."
This win ensures NMCC (4-1) a trip to the SEMO Conference championship tonight against the Sikeston Bulldogs at 8:30 p.m..
"That's going to be a great test for us early," Day said about playing Sikeston. "They're big, long and athletic."
SIKESTON -- After taking a 14-point lead with them into halftime, the Dexter Bearcats were unable to hold on to that momentum in the second half of the SEMO Conference consolation semifinals, as the Jackson Indians took control and slipped past the Bearcats, 61-57.
The Indians came out blazing in the third quarter as they opened up the period with a 9-1 run and outscored the Bearcats 28-14 to tie the game at 44 a piece heading into the fourth quarter.
"I really don't think we came out with a lot of fire in the third quarter," Dexter head coach Rob Nichols said. "We came out playing tense and playing not to loose. We didn't attack on offense and we didn't move on offense. We've been having trouble starting the third quarter. I can see a difference in our kids. There's no killer instinct. Maybe that has to do with being a young team."
With less than a minute left to play in regulation and down by the score of 57-55, Dexter decided to stop the clock and send Cody Green to the line. Green, who finished with 15 points, sank two clutch free throws to give the Indians a four point lead.
During the Bearcats next possession Alan Flannigan, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds, put Dexter within two points again with 32 seconds left in the game.
As Dexter continued to foul to stop the clock, Green and Bobby Clark were each fouled and they both went 1-for-2 at the line to give the Indians the final score.
"We told them at half time that Jackson is not going to play that bad in the second half," Nichols said. "They're going to start making some shots and they're going to stop having some of those turnovers. They came out and made some shots and got a little energy going and our guys started playing tense."
Dexter began the game with a 15-6 lead after the first quarter and at one point in the second quarter were up by as much as 18 points. Jackson had a tough time finding any rhythm in the first half, while the Bearcats were able to cause numerous turnovers and hit five 3-pointers to gain the early advantage.
"I knew in the first half when we got up 18 or 20 points that quick, there was a lot of time left in the game and Jackson was a much better team than the way they were playing," said Nichols.
Drew Kelly led the Bearcats with 15 points and hit two 3-pointers in the first half. Luciano Starling scored 14 points with six of those coming from the free throw line where he went 6-for-9.
Andrew Shrum added 13 points to the Indians total while Clark and Lucas Davis added nine points respectively.
Jackson will play the Notre Dame Bulldogs at 5:30 tonight for the consolation championship while Dexter (0-4) will play Caruthersville on Monday at 6 p.m.