(Photos by Josh Mills, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- The Charleston Bluejays pulled out a fourth quarter thriller Tuesday evening as they upset the New Madrid County Central Eagles 55-51. For the Bluejays, the entire contest wasn't as glamorous as the final 1:30 in the fourth quarter.
NMCC jumped out early in the first quarter behind Kony Ealy, who scored six of the first 10 points for the Eagles. In the second, Charleston cut into the lead slightly, but by the break the visiting squad had extended their lead to eight points, 25-17.
Straight out of the break between the third and fourth quarters, Deonte Jones began to spark the Bluejay crowd from behind the arc. As the Charleston squad pulled within three points, it seemed as if they had shown themselves that they were capable of pulling off the upset victory.
The Eagles held firm momentarily, gaining a 47-38 lead with around 5:30 left to play in the game, but the last five minutes were a 'dogfight' as Charleston head coach Danny Farmer put it following the contest.
Jones continued his hot streak from the 3-point line to even the score at 47 apiece and a few minutes later Jeremy Spencer gave the Bluejays their first lead 53-51 with 1:30 left on the clock. The two squads spent most of the next minute on the floor battling over turnovers until Dixon sealed the game for Charleston with three seconds left giving the Bluejays the 55-51 victory.
"We've been in dog fights all year long," said Farmer after the game. "Our schedule gets us ready for dogfights. We realized we had played the best team in southeast Missouri (Sikeston) to nine points, so we realized that the third best team (NMCC), we could play with them. So, we came out tonight thinking that and believing that. By winning this game, it's only going to help us out to get better and keep believing."
Jones stole the spotlight in the final quarter for the Bluejays, knocking down four 3-pointers in the final eight minutes. He also hit one in the third giving him a total of five on the evening. He tallied the most points for Charleston with 15. Close behind Jones was Dixon who added 13 points and McClendon, who added 12 including two 3-pointers.
"He was big," said Farmer, commenting on Jones' 3-point display. "He came through and shot the ball the way he was capable of shooting. Jones is coming into himself. This is two games in a row that he's played well."
NMCC head coach Travis Day said his squad knew Charleston would be tough, especially in their own gym.
"I just told them, I don't care what type of team Charleston has got, they're a tough team to beat at home," Day said. "Any night these guys play at home they're going to believe they're going to win. They forced us into some turnovers and we also missed some clutch free throws when we needed them there. It's a long season, we're just going to try to get better every game."
The Eagles were 2-for-5 from the charity stripe in the final eight minutes of play and finished the evening going 3-for-9 from the line.
Jenkins was the team-leader Tuesday evening for the visiting NMCC squad. Jenkins rattled off 16 points including two 3-pointers. Ealy added 15 and Minner had 11.
Day said it's possible that the two squads could meet again in the district tournament later in the year. As for their next opponent, the Eagles, now 8-5, will travel to Cape Central on Friday evening to take on the Tigers.
The Bluejays, now an even .500 on the year with a 7-7 record, will battle the Scott Central Braves Friday evening in the Ronnie Cookson Gymnasium.