(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
POPLAR BLUFF -- After suffering a toe injury late in Charleston's 70-68 Sectional win over Ava on Wednesday, Bluejay guard Greg Tucker's status for Saturday's quarterfinal matchup with Bayless remained up in the air in the days leading up the contest.
Any concerns about his health, however, were quickly alleviated when Tucker took to the court, scoring 14 first quarter points en rout to a 82-66 Charleston win.
"I'm feeling alright," Tucker said. "I've been getting treatment during the week, a lot of ice. I saw a trainer in Cape (Girardeau). He did a real good job with me and got me ready for the game."
Tucker would finish the game with 34 points while helping stave off a late rally as the Bronchos tried to save their season.
Down 10 points to start the final frame, Bayless cut their deficit in half just over a minute into the quarter, going on a 5-0 run to start the period.
It was Enis Mehmedovic hitting his sixth 3-pointer of the night, followed by Edin Mehmedovic dropping in a bucket soon after to close their team to within five at 59-54 with 6:44 to play.
Forced to call a timeout, the Bluejays huddled together to make sure the the Bronchos' rally didn't get out of hand.
"I was thinking I sure can't let this go down again," said Jamaul Gray, whose block in the finals seconds of sectionals saved the Bluejays season. "Lesson learned from the last team we played."
Starting with a pair of free throws from Claude Armstrong, Charleston once again started to pull away soon after, going on a 7-2 run after the timeout to lead 66-56 with 5:28 to play.
Needing to foul the rest of the way to try and take the ball out of Charleston's hands, Bayless saw the Bluejays hit 10 of 15 free throws in the final four minutes, while adding three buckets, to seal the win.
"I guess they thought we weren't a good free throw shooting team," Charleston's Jerry Carter said. "But after every practice coach has us shoot 40 (free throws). That really helped us."
On the game Charleston connected on 35 of 45 shots from the line for a rate of 78 percent.
A big key to the Bluejays' game plan revolved around slowing down Bayless' big man, Edic Mehmedovic, whose 29 points in Sectionals propelled the Bronchos to the quarterfinals.
Though the Bluejays allowed Mehmedovic eight first quarter points, he was slowed the following two quarters to a combined six points in the second and third frame.
In those two quarters, Charleston was able to build their lead to 10 heading into the fourth, outscoring Bayless 36-28 in that time span.
"We knew that coming in that he was the guy that they wanted to get ball to," Charleston head coach Danny Farmer said. "We just wanted to make it tough for him. We're not going to just shut him down completely, but I think he got tired.
"He had one great quarter and after that he was a little bit fatigued."
Edic Mehmedovic finished second on the Bronchos with 21 points on the afternoon with Enis Mehmedovic leading the team with 23.
For Charleston, Tucker's 34 points were a game-high. He shot 5 of 10 from the floor, scoring 12 in the fourth quarter, while adding four rebounds and two steals.
Carter added another 20 points to the Bluejays cause, shooting 6 of 11 with six rebounds and two steals.
As a team, Charleston shot 20 of 41 while grabbing 23 rebounds.
"We played a great game," Tucker said. "We came out shooting the ball really well. We came out in the game really intense, we really wanted to get after it.
"It was a big game for us and we came through."
With the win, Charleston (24-5) now advances to to the Show Me Showdown where they will face Hogan Prep Academy (21-8) in the semifinals at Mizzou Arena in Columbia at 6:45 p.m.
It will Charleston's first trip to the Show Me Showdown since 2007 when they went on to claim the state title.
"It feels great," Krushon Scott said of advancing to the Showdown. "It's like the best feeling I ever felt. I'm been waiting for this ever since my first season, ever since I was a freshman."
BAYLESS (66) -- Lamont Davenport 10, Jatic Armin 3, Enis Mehmedovic 23, Edin Mehmedovic 21, Patrick Triplett 7, Aldin Kovagevic 2. FG 28, FT 2-10, F 29. (3-pointers: Enis Mehmedovic 6, Armin 1, Triplett 1. Fouled out: Oric Edmir, Davenport).
CHARLESTON (82) -- Avery Williams 2, Aaron Cassell 2, Ryan Parham 8, Trey Watkins 1, Gregory Tucker 34, Jamaul Gray 2, Claude Armstrong 5, Jerry Carter 20, Krushon Scott 8. FG 20, FT 35-45, F 18. (3-pointers: Tucker 4, Carter 3. Fouled out: Armstrong).