(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
COLUMBIA -- Sturgeon senior Trey Chisholm had the upper hand against the Bernie Mules.
He was a thorn in their side from the tip and continued to be when it mattered the most.
With 2.8 seconds left showing on the clock, Chisholm calmly stepped to the line and sank two free throws giving the Bulldogs an 82-80 win in the MSHSAA Class 2 championship game at Mizzou Arena.
"A lot of pressure but, I love the competition and I love all the fans screaming. It just makes me want to hit it just as much," Chisholm said.
Bernie's inbounds play following Chisholm's heroics worked to perfection giving Jacob Owens a chance to win the game from just inside the halfcourt line. Owens' shot bounced off the rim sealing the win for Sturgeon.
Chisholm's game-winning free throws handed Bernie its third second-place finish in as many tries.
"Owens gets a great look from three, actually," Bernie coach Brad Botsch said. "I mean he's way out there, but I thought it was going to go in from where I was at. I really did it was really close. They executed the play that we drew up perfectly, it just didn't fall for us."
Bernie was led by Jordan McGowan's 28 points while Owens added a hefty 26. Jake Welch chipped in with 15.
Going into the fourth quarter with a 57-55 lead, Bernie was able to extend that advantage as high as seven after two successful free throws from McGowan.
Behind the sure-shot of Owens, who hit six 3-pointers including back-to-back treys in the fourth quarter, Bernie held leads of seven, six and four points in the later stages of the contest and could sense they were 2:50 away from winning their first state title. However, Chisholm had other plans.
Sturgeons leading scorer, who ended with a game and careerhigh 35 points, scored 10 points to lead the Bulldogs in the last two and a half minutes. He came away with a game-changing steal to keep his team in it with 1:11 remaining and continued to hit big shots when his team needed it the most.
"I told [my team] that I wasn't going to let them lose," he said. "I didn't want to lose."
Chisholm answered Owen's 3-pointers that put the Mules up 73-67, with six consecutive points for his team.
"I think he was able to keep us off balance a little bit with his body," Botsch said about Chisholm. "He's a strong kid and he penetrates well. He shot the pull-up well, he hit the basket well and he hit shot after shot it seemed like out there from three."
Sturgeon's Garrett Kelly got in on the action with a huge 3- pointer pulling the Bulldogs to within just two points, 78-76, and just two minutes remaining.
"He hit a big 3 that drew us within two," Sturgeon coach Greg Buescher said. "When he hit that, I think we sensed that we might have a chance."
After McGowan sank two free throws with 1:39 remaining giving the Mules another four-point lead, Bernie employed a tactic to spread out the zone-happy Bulldogs keeping the ball around halfcourt and looking for opportunities to present themselves underneath the basket.
"We weren't looking to try and stall or slow the game down," Botsch said. "What we were looking to do was try to pull them out a little bit and get backdoor opportunities and get penetration to where we could get dump downs underneath and get good looks at the basket.
"And we did," Botsch added. "But, it seemed like every time we'd score two, they would come down and hit a three. We'd get two and they'd get three. They just continually stepped up and kept catching us."
Sturgeon fired back with a rare man-to-man defense that they usually don't employ.
"I thought when we switched to man-to-man we got after them and it kind of changed the momentum," Buescher said.
A layup and 3-pointer by Owens put Bernie ahead 5-0 in the first two minutes of the contest. Owens scored the Mules' first 8 points.
Sturgeons' Domenic Johnson tied the game at 8 with a conventional 3-point play. Johnson eventually put the Bulldogs up 10-8 midway through the quarter.
McGowan was the first Mules player not named Owens to score. McGowan tied the game at 10 and then again at 12. The Mules' hot hand eventually cooled off though as Bernie fell into a scoring drought that lasted until the end of the first quarter. It left the Mules looking up at a 21-14 first quarter deficit.
Jake Welch put an end to the Mules'scoring woes with a jump shot from eight foot out which made it a 23-16 Bulldogs lead. Welch gave the Mules the ball right back by drawing a charge on the very next possession. Owens put Bernie back from within five points with a bucket shortly after.
Bernie's 6-5 post-man, Jake Smith, committed his third foul going over the back of a few Sturgeon players at the 4:56 mark in the second quarter. Bernie was without the presence of their big man for the remainder of the half. Smith eventually foul out in the fourth quarter as he finished with four points and six rebounds.
"Jake Smith fouling out really hurt us rebounding wise," Botsch said. "They got some offensive rebounds that he probably would have gotten there late."
The Bulldogs were up by five three different times in the second quarter. The third time provoked a run by the Mules with Welch leading the way. He hit 1-of-2 free throws and shortly after picked off an errand pass and drove the length of the floor to tie the game at 40 points apiece.
That's where the halftime score stood.
"Our kids are resilient," Botsch said. "I knew they had been in a lot of big games and they've won a lot of close games. I really thought we would be able to hold out and get it done."
BERNIE (80) -- Jake Welch 15, Jordan McGowan 28, Jacob Owens 26, Jake Smith 4, Jeremy Walker 2, Sammy Walker 5. FG 26, FT 18-21, F 23. (3-pointers: McGowan 4, Owens 6. Fouled out: Smith.)
STURGEON (82) -- Domenic Johnson 15, Dakota Reeves 6, Trey Chisholm 35, Garrett Kelly 14, Lane Arends 4, Taylor Wells 8. FG 27, FT 21-27, F 20. (3-pointers: Chisholm 3, Kelly 2, Wells 2. Fouled out: 20)