(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- When Sikeston and Notre Dame get together on the basketball floor, the game is never short on intensity and Thursday night was no different.
Sikeston used a 19-0 run in the first half to grab a big lead and held off a scrappy Notre Dame team en route to a 64-50 win in the semifinals of the SEMO Conference Tournament.
"This game was just about what I expected," said Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield. "It was a dogfight to the end and (Notre Dame) never quits and they make big shots."
Notre Dame led 10-6 in the first quarter before Sikeston went on a 5-0 run to end the first quarter and then scored the first 14 points of the second quarter. Sikeston all-stater Michael Porter scored all 11 points for the Bulldogs in the first quarter.
"We had great energy and we were doing a real good job forcing turnovers," Holifield said of his team's run in the first half.
"I think it all started with our pressure," said Sikeston junior Juqualin Wiggins. "We started off real good, we moved it around and got some good shots, but the pressure was the key."
"It was a surreal experience," the sophomore said of his first game with Notre Dame. Holifield missed his first three shots from the floor before stepping up to hit his 3-pointers. "I consider myself a pretty good shooter," he said. "I shoot a lot, I try to work hard and you just have to keep on shooting and eventually they'll drop for you."
Sikeston went into the locker room ahead 33-17 but Notre Dame came out hot to start the second half as Austin Greer hit a 3-pointer followed by two 3-pointers from Joseph Tolbert.
"The first three minutes of the third quarter is always a point of emphasis for us and that was the point in time tonight that (Notre Dame) got back in the game to be quite honest," coach Holifield said. "We can't allow that to happen. We have to hammer teams when we have them down. We were a little bit sluggish coming out in the second half."
Following two Notre Dame free throws, Sikeston's lead was trimmed to 33-30 and that was when Porter took over. Porter scored 10 of Sikeston's 12 points in the third quarter as the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 45-36 after three quarters.
"We just pulled together, worked as a team and encouraged each other," Porter said. "If you get your head down you're going to get beat."
Sikeston continued to pour it on in the fourth quarter as sophomore Daryl Howard forced numerous turnovers as the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 58-41 late in the fourth.
"I saw how (Notre Dame) was dribbling the ball and I saw they kept doing crossovers and I just read them and started D-ing them up," Howard said.
Notre Dame was able to cut the lead back to 60-50 after a John Unterreiner 3-pointer, but a slam dunk by Sikeston's Cal Lane was topped by a Porter dunk with six seconds remaining sealing the win.
"I thought one thing we didn't do well down the stretch was that we didn't take care of the basketball," coach Holifield said. "We got a little sloppy, but that is going to come in time. There are still so many situations that we haven't had a chance to work on and within time I think we will really improve that."
Porter finished the game with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Lane added 14 for Sikeston. Notre Dame was led by Greer and Tolbert who each had 11 points. Sophomore Jacob Tolbert chipped in 10 points.
"It was a sweet victory," Porter said. "We're happy to get out of here with the win and get ready for the championship tomorrow night."
Sikeston will take on NMCC in the championship game at 8:30 p.m. tonight while Notre Dame will play Poplar Bluff in the third place game at 7 p.m.