(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
O'FALLON -- Most area basketball tournaments were postponed due to heavy snow, but the Sikeston Bulldogs beat the weather by leaving a day early, and then defeated Lutheran-St. Charles 71-53 on Wednesday in the first round of the 19th Annual St. Dominic Christmas Tournament in O'Fallon.
There was no snow on the ground in the St. Louis area, but the Bulldogs looked sluggish in the first half after having not played since Dec. 14. However, the team regrouped with a strong second half surge to win going away.
Top-seeded Sikeston only led 34-29 at halftime against the No. 8 seeded Cougars, but Sikeston dominated the third quarter when the Bulldogs' pressure defense started to wear them down.
"I thought we played well in the second half," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "In the first half we were somewhat sloppy, but we haven't played in a couple weeks. But our kids responded and really played well in the second half."
Sikeston came out making numerous mistakes, committing six fouls and turning the ball over eight times in the first quarter. Despite the errors, the Bulldogs still led 16-14 after one.
The Bulldogs never could extend the lead on the Cougars in the second quarter as the score remained tied at 26-26 late in the period, but three consecutive inside baskets by Reese Porter and a basket by J.T. Jones gave Sikeston a 34-26 lead, marking its biggest advantage of the first half.
Lutheran's (5-7) Logan Kluesner, however, buried a 3-pointer with seconds remaining in the half to cut the halftime score to 34-29.
"We had a pretty good plan going in as far as how to break the press and we felt we did a pretty good job of that in the first half," Lutheran coach Nate Vogel said. "I thought we played pretty well in the first half."
The Bulldogs began to take control in the third quarter, opening up a double-digit lead and never looking back.
Sikeston point guard Vashawn Ruffin hit his team's only 3-pointer with a minute left in the third quarter and then hit a pull-up jumper on the next trip down the floor to extend the Bulldogs' lead to 57-38 heading into the final frame.
"I think we just lost composure," Vogel said. "Obviously Sikeston is a very good team and you can't make mistakes, and when we did it moved from five to 18 in a very quick hurry."
The Bulldogs led by as much as 61-38 on a Ruffin layup and cruised to the finish with the Cougars getting no closer than the final margin.
"We had great pressure on the basketball and got some points off turnovers," Holifield said. "We also got on the boards much better than we did in the first half. We improved our shot selection and took advantage inside. We had turnovers, which we don't normally do, but you have to give them credit for that. I thought our kids adjusted well at the half and came out and played much better."
Jones finished with a triple-double for the Bulldogs, scoring 16 points with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He also had four steals.
"The impressive thing about that is he was on the boards and he was passing the ball extremely well unselfishly," Holifield said of Jones.
Ruffin finished with a season-high 19 points with nine assists, six rebounds and five steals.
Porter scored 12 of his 18 points in the first half to go with three steals and two blocks. He was 9 of 9 from the field.
The Bulldogs finished with an impressive 26 assists in the game, but also had 19 turnovers.
"I thought as a whole our team played well together," Holifield said. "I thought Vashawn and Reese did some nice things."
Sikeston, ranked No. 1 in Class 4 in the MBCA/MoSports.com coaches poll, improves to 9-0 for the second time in three seasons.
The Bulldogs are scheduled to play No. 5 seed Timberland at 4 p.m. today. The Wolves upset fourth-seeded Parkway North 57-53.
LUTHERAN-ST. CHARLES (53) -- Kyle Graham 13, Logan Kluesner 10, Will Brockmeier 10, Lucas Swindle 9, Sam Preusser 7, Justin James 2, Casey Cameron 2. FT 19, FT 9-15, F 7. (3-pointers: Kluesner 2. Fouled out: none).
SIKESTON (83) -- Vashawn Ruffin 19, Reese Porter 18, J.T. Jones 16, Markeith Bratcher 8, Jairius Ray 6, Zach Jackson 2, Jeterrence Harris 2. FG 33, FT 2-8, F 16. (3-pointers: Ruffin 1. Fouled out: none).