(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
WEST PLAINS -- There's no need to worry about Charleston senior Greg Tucker anymore.
He's injury free and ready to lead his explosive Bluejays once again.
"I'm 100 percent," Tucker said. "No nagging, no nothing."
Tucker, who had dealt with a deep thigh bruise for the last month, poured in a game high 27 points on Wednesday night during Charleston's 74-64 sectional win over Liberty Mountain-View at the West Plains Civic Center in West Plains.
Charleston (28-2) will play Crystal City on Saturday in the Class 3 quarterfinals at Poplar Bluff High School at 2:45 p.m. for a chance to make it to their second straight final four and 20th overall.
"I was just trying to be aggressive from the beginning of the game," said Tucker. "I looked for my shot when I had it and looked for my teammates when I didn't."
After ending the regular season shakier than most would have expected, mostly due to injuries sustained by Tucker, Jamaul Gray and others, Charleston wasted little time proving they're back on track.
"Our mentality is to play every game like it's our last because if you slip up just once you could be going home," Tucker said. "We're not going to take anybody lightly. We feel like if we come out and play our game and play like we know we can, we can beat anybody."
The Bluejays used a slew of weapons to open the game on a 12-2 run. Five different Charleston players scored their first six baskets.
"It took about eight, nine and 10 of us," Charleston head coach Danny Farmer said, "it always does. I thought (Aaron) Cassell and (Mike) Hull played very well. I thought (Darrion) Carter played a great game inside at center, blocking shots and rebounding. Tucker looked more like himself and Ryan Parham took over.
"We're going to have to win games any way we can."
Darrion Carter, who was seldom used during the regular season, gave Charleston a much-needed inside presence. The sophomore scored six of his nine points in the first quarter and pulled down six rebounds and had two blocks.
"We've got a really deep team. We can play everybody," Tucker said. "(Carter) did a good job of rebounding the ball and blocking some shots. He was a really good spark and we've got a lot of players that can come off the bench and do that."
Charleston, who forced Liberty into six turnovers in the first quarter, flew by the Eagles with their unparalleled speed and quickness to get to the rim or simple shake their defenders loose for an open shot.
The Bluejays led 20-8 after the first eight minutes had passed, which turned out to be the biggest difference in the game.
Liberty played nose to nose with Charleston, outscoring them 21-20 in the second and 19-18 in the third.
The Eagles shot 50 percent (25 of 50) from the field while Charleston was 26 of 56 (46 percent).
"We played a team that could get to the rim really well," Tucker said. "They could shoot real well and they played hard too. They were real scrappy."
The Eagles, for most of the time, were able to overcome Charleston's sometimes overwhelming man to man pressure defense by simply hanging on to the ball and not allowing the quick-swiping abilities of the Bluejays' to tip the ball away.
Liberty, who was seeded fourth in their district, finished with 13 turnovers -- a slightly lower number than what Charleston is used to coaxing from their opponents.
"They had good ball handlers, good players and a good team," said Farmer. "If you saw this game tonight you could see why they represented their district."
The closest Liberty came within the Bluejays was five points early in the second quarter. Eagle guard Jaelon Acklin hit two free throws to make it 20-15 during the first two minutes of the frame. Tucker, however, answered with the first of his three 3-pointers on the night.
Tucker scored 10 in the second as Charleston took a 40-29 lead into halftime.
"He's getting better every game," Farmer said about Tucker. "He's getting healthy. We've got other people stepping up too. As long as we have that, we'll be alright."
An 8-2 run by the Bluejays, which was capped by five straight points from Aaron Cassell, put Charleston ahead 54-38 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Liberty closed the third period with a 10-4 run to cut their deficit to just 10, 58-48.
After keeping their lead hovering at a secure 10 points for most of the night, Charleston continued that pace in the fourth with patience and poise at the free throw line.
Charleston took their biggest lead of the night, 70-53, after Ryan Parham laid one in during the final three minutes.
The Bluejays hit 10 of 16 from the charity stripe to keep the Eagles at bay, including a 5 of 6 performance from Tucker.
Liberty ended the game on a 9-3 run although the contest was fully in Charleston's hands.
Jaelon led Liberty with 21 points. Kole Castineau ended with 15 and three steals while James Denton added 11 points, six rebounds and Dakota Sharp scored 10.
"They're a tough team," Farmer said. "When you make it to this point of the season, your opponent is a good team. They will show you the reason why they represent the sectional for their area. We have to be mentally prepared for that challenge and we were tonight."
Parham poured in 15 points and added five assists and four steals. Cassell and Mike Hull each chipped in seven points.
Charleston also out-rebounded Liberty by a slim margin of 27 to 26.
"We're getting there," Farmer said. "Our expectations are so high that sometimes a win isn't good enough. You want to win in a certain way. We had a few times here towards the end that we stumbled so we have to correct that."
LIBERTY (64) -- James Denton 11, Hunter Barnes 1, Kole Castineau 15, Austin Smotherman 2, Austin Pruett 2, Dakota Sharp 10, Adam Niehaus 2, Jaelon Acklin 21. FG 25 FT 11-19 F 23 (3-pointers: Denton 1, Sharp 1, Acklin 1. Fouled out: none.)
CHARLESTON (74) -- Aaron Cassell 7, Ryan Parham 15, Greg Tucker 27, Jamaul Gray 4, Mike Hull 7, Trey Watkins 1, Darrion Carter 9, Sumner Foster 4. FG 26 FT 17-26 F 20 (3-pointers: Cassell 1, Tucker 3, Hull 1. Fouled out: none.)