(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
NEW MADRID -- For most of the season, free throw shooting has been the achilles heel for the New Madrid County Central Eagles. On Friday night, it helped them win the game.
NMCC hit 12-of-15 free throws in the final quarter and held off Cape Central 59-53 on homecoming to improve to 8-6 and 3-0 in SEMO Conference action.
"I'm going to make sure I go to church Sunday," said NMCC coach Travis Day. "Lately free throws have been our achilles heel and we've been missing them late when we need them but we made them tonight and that was great for us."
NMCC led by as many as 11 in the third quarter, but Cape Central fought back, cutting the Eagle lead to 42-41 and had the basketball with under four minutes remaining in the game.
The NMCC defense held tough as the Tigers tried to get the ball inside but the Eagles' Kony Ealy poked the ball away, leading to a G'Darius Stevenson offensive stick back. Stevenson then came up with a steal and passed to teammate William Bledsoe for two more and NMCC led 46-41.
The teams then traded baskets and trailing 48-43 Cape Central was forced to resort to fouling the Eagles.
"They've been down before, they never quit and that is a credit to them," Cape Central coach Drew Church said of his team. "They play hard and they fought back and cut it to one late and we had to foul. But credit New Madrid, they hit their free throws and took care of the ball."
From the outset it looked to be Cape Central's night. The Tigers came out of the gate hot, taking a 14-7 lead after one quarter, thanks in large part to Andrew Williams, who scored 10 first quarter points, including two three-pointers.
NMCC turned up the defensive intensity in the second quarter, forcing numerous Tiger turnovers that led to easy Eagle baskets. The Eagles took their first lead of the game when Keith Holmes hit a three-pointer with one minute left in the half, putting NMCC ahead 22-20.
Jamareia Jones then grabbed a steal and scored on a layup. After a Cape Central free throw, Holmes once again came through for NMCC as he banked in a three-pointer as time expired to put the Eagles ahead 27-21 at halftime.
"That is how we want to play," Day said of NMCC's strong second quarter. "Full court, man-to-man pressure, making teams have to go the full length of the court. When we did that, good things happened."
NMCC forced Cape Central into 14 first half turnovers, nine in the second quarter.
"We kinda shot ourselves in the foot a little bit," Church said. "We turned the ball over a little bit, kinda lost our minds for a couple minutes there and it hurt us. It gave them some momentum. They got the steals and they got the easy buckets."
The Eagles continued their strong play to start the third, building as much as a 35-24 lead before Cape Central starting battling back to get in the game.
"We still haven't put four quarters together," Day said. "We had a good second quarter and good fourth quarter and that is too shaky for me.
"We had that third quarter where we got comfortable and let them back in the game. We came back that fourth quarter and handled all of their runs and that lets you know we are capable of having a good team because when teams make runs at us we are able to sustain (the lead)."
A big part of the game was Cape Central's inability to get the ball inside against the NMCC man-to-man defense.
"That is a big part of our game," Church said of his team's inside play. "With Ealy in there, he's tough to go against. He's long, he's athletic and he gets his hand on a lot of balls and it was tough for us tonight. We've got to do a better job when something is taken away to look for other things."
Ealy led NMCC with 16 points and eight rebounds. Holmes added 11 points and Dontre Jenkins chipped in nine.
Williams led Cape Central (9-4) with 18 points while Kevin Casasola was close behind with 17 points.
Cape Centralwon the junior varsity game 52-32.
CAPE CENTRAL (53) -- Blake Ozbun 3, Andrew Williams 18, James Lane 9, Terrance Howard 3, Kevin Casasola 17, Zach Boerboom 3. FG 21, FT 6-16, F 19. (3-pointers: Williams 4, Casasola 1. Fouled out: Williams).
NMCC (59) -- Dontre Jenkins 9, Lamonte Nelson 5, Keith Holmes 11, Jamareia Jones 5, G'Darius Stevenson 7, Kony Ealy 16, William Bledsoe 6. FG 17, FT 15-22, F 16. (3-pointers: Holmes 2, Jenkins 1, Nelson 1. Fouled out: none).