(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- After trying to keep up with their scorching pace for a half, opponents of the Sikeston Bulldogs usually fall by the wayside once the third quarter hits.
Add to that a momentum grabbing 3-point heave that swishes in just as the buzzer signals for halftime and the Bulldogs have opponents right where they want them.
Sikeston (5-0) took control of the Notre Dame Bulldogs during the third quarter on Thursday during the semifinals of the SEMO Conference Tournament at the Sikeston Field House.
Sikeston ended up beating their rival 78-63 to advance to the conference championship game for the fifth time in the last six years since the tournament resumed in 2006.
Just as it always seems to go between the two, neither team gave an inch in the first half.
Notre Dame was able to hold possessions and break through Sikeston's press. After which, they slowed the pace down, spread the floor and was able to find the open man inside Sikeston's 2-3 zone.
"We were attacking," Notre Dame coach Kevin Roberts said about their first half success. "We were getting the ball to the middle of the floor, on the wings and were looking to attack."
After Sikeston, the top seed in the tournament, began the game by missing their first five shots, Vashawn Ruffin finally put them on the scoreboard nearly three minutes into the first quarter. Moments later, Ruffin nailed an NBA-range 3-pointer to give Sikeston a 5-4 lead.
"They were playing really good defense," Ruffin said about Notre Dame's early success. "They made it hard for us at first. That's what we expected."
Ruffin, who led Sikeston with a game-high 22 points, made his second 3-pointer of the night just before the first quarter ended to give his Bulldogs a 16-11 lead heading into the second frame.
Notre Dame battled back, however, recapturing the lead with 2:02 left in the half after Jordan Reddin connected on one of two free throws to make it 27-26 in favor of the No. 4 seed.
After a Notre Dame turnover, Ruffin put Sikeston ahead 28-27 with 32 seconds left in the quarter. With mere seconds remaining in the first half, Sikeston senior Terry Jamison ended up with the ball at the top of the key facing ferocious man defense from Notre Dame's Jonathan Lynch.
By somehow working his way around Lynch while in the air, Jamison tossed a prayer towards the basket that found the bottom of the net as time expired that sent the Bulldog fans in red into a frenzy.
"I just threw it up, hoping it would go in," Jamison admitted. "We settled down after that and kept on them defensively."
Jamison's heave looked to be the turning point once the third quarter began. Although Notre Dame eventually tied the game at 33-33, a 14-2 run by Sikeston put them firmly in the driver's seat with 1:33 left in the third.
"That gave us confidence to come out in the third quarter," Ruffin said about Jamison's shot. "Those first three minutes in the third quarter we got together, played team ball and ran them."
Causing turnovers and grabbing steals -- Sikeston's forte -- is what ultimately led to the defending champions pulling away from Notre Dame in the third quarter.
"There was a stretch of about four or five minutes where we just shied up and that's what they rely on," Roberts said about the third quarter. "That shot before the half put us down two possessions when we could have been down just one and that was big.
"We didn't manage it. We played with them for the first half and the fourth quarter, but the third quarter just got us."
Sikeston built a 20-point lead after a traditional 3-point play by Jamison, but Notre Dame cut it to 57-41 at the end of the quarter.
"We got some shots to fall there and kind of got on a roll where we got six or eight points in a row that really helped us," said Holifield. "Things just kind of went our way in the second half."
Notre Dame came as close as 13 points during the fourth quarter, but eight points from J.T. Jones and a combined 6 for 10 at the free throw line was enough for Sikeston to hold on for the win.
"You have to give Notre Dame credit," Holifield said. "They play us as tough as anybody we go against and they're a good basketball team. It's always this type of game."
Jamison added 17 points in the win while J.T. Jones had 19 points and 13 rebounds off the bench for Sikeston.
Notre Dame was led by Nathan Meystedt who poured in 20 points.
Sikeston will play the Charleston Bluejays for the conference tournament championship at 8:30 p.m.
NOTRE DAME (63) -- Demonte Farmer 6, Jonathan Lynch 7, Jordan Reddin 8, Nathan Meystedt 20, Justin Landewee 2, Joe Siebert 3, Cody Heisser 6, Ryan Hale 11. FG 25 FT 11-18 F 18 (3-pointers: Farmer 1, Lynch 1. Fouled out: none.)
SIKESTON (78) -- Kil'Ron Coleman 6, Caleb McGee 2, Vashawn Ruffin 22, Terry Jamison 17, J.T. Jones 19, Markeith Bratcher 5, Keldon Warfield 7. FG 29 FT 16-23 F 18 (3-pointers: Ruffin 2, Jamison 1, Jones 1. Fouled out: none.)