(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- In years past, the Charleston Bluejays have been highly regarded as one of the toughest defensive teams to walk onto the court.
On Monday, they epitomized that well-earned slogan and flattened the New Madrid County Central Eagles, 64-27, during the first round of the SEMO Conference Tournament at the Sikeston Field House.
Charleston (3-1) punished the Eagles for every pass, lazy or not, as they stepped in front of nearly every pass NMCC tried to make. They also hounded the Eagles with aggressive defense forcing steals and turnovers throughout the contest.
After forcing a turnover, Charleston had little problems converting on their end.
"Our defense was our offense," Charleston coach Danny Farmer said. "We forced a lot of turnovers and capitalized off of them.
"For us, it was about coming in and not really paying attention to the score. It was about playing well because this tournament is really tough. We've got to get on a roll if we're going to do something in it."
The Bluejays ripped through the Eagles in just a matter of minutes as they began the game with a 9-0 run. NMCC's Brandon Ray put the Eagles on the board with one made free throw at the 4:16 mark.
Charleston, however, closed the frame with 13-5 run, which included nine points from senior Greg Tucker.
NMCC (0-3) stopped the bleeding momentarily after Jimmy Caldwell pulled the Eagles to within 10 points with just under five minutes left in the first half.
Again, Charleston, who is the tournament's No. 2 seed, closed the quarter strongly with a 14-2 run to go up 36-14 at the break.
"Turnovers are what's hurting us," NMCC coach Travis Day said. "(Charleston) did a lot of good things on defense, but I think we helped them out with that. We had way too many blind passes. We need to get better at handling the ball and we need someone to step up and take that responsibility."
Charleston continued to expand their margin in the third quarter, holding on to a comfortable 53-19 advantage after three quarters of play.
On top of losing in a lop-sided affair, the Eagles were also bitten by the injury bug in the first half. Primary ball handler and senior guard Lamonte Nelson was pulled from the game after going down in the first half with an apparent ankle injury. He, nor senior Jimmy Caldwell who also went down in the first half because of an ankle, returned to the game. Their status for Thursday's consolation semifinal game against either Cape Central or Poplar Bluff, is unknown.
Tucker, who has already signed with Northern Colorado University, led the Bluejays with 13 points. Ryan Parham and Michael Hull added nine points while both Aaron Cassell and Sumner Foster chipped in with seven.
In all, Charleston had 11 players record at least two points.
"It's good to see that everyone is contributing while they're out there," Farmer said. "It's nice to see that they are all trying to do what we've been teaching them."
Darrin McGloson led the Eagles with nine points.
Charleston will play the winner of the Cape Central-Poplar Bluff game on Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
NMCC (27) -- Lamonte Nelson 2, Jashawn McDaniel 3, Brandon Ray 2, Wilson 3, Jimmy Caldwell 2, CJ Chism 4, Tevin Winfield 2, Darrin McGloson 9. FG 10 FT 6-10 F 12 (3-pointers: McDaniel 1. Fouled out: none.)
CHARLESTON (64) -- Aaron Cassell 7, Delfincko Bogan 4, Ryan Parham 9, Michael Hull 9, Trey Watkins 2, Greg Tucker 13, Jamaul Gray 6, Maurice Moore 3, Sumner Foster 7, Shandor Webster 2, Will Davis 2. FG 27 FT 5-9 F 10 (3-pointers: Cassell 1, Hull 1, Tucker 2, Moore 1. Fouled out: none.)