(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- The Sikeston Bulldogs have protected its home court as well as any team in the state of Missouri recently.
But for just the third time in six years, the Bulldogs tasted defeat at the Field House, falling to a powerful Maplewood-Richmond Heights team, 70-66 in front of a loud, energized crowd on Friday night.
Maplewood came into the game hyped as a top contender in Class 3 with a reputation of playing top competition from around the country.
The Blue Devils (13-4), coached by former Charleston standout Corey Frazier, left the Field House in rare company, joining his alma mater as the only schools to defeat the Bulldogs on their home floor in the last 68 games.
"This is a big victory for me in more than one way," Frazier said. "Not only for my team up in St. Louis, but coming from Charleston and coming back to this hostile environment. I haven't been here since I played in high school. This is fun for me and this is a big-time experience for my kids to play in this atmosphere."
With 10 seniors on the roster, the experienced Blue Devils had answers for everything Sikeston threw at them on Friday and withstood a furious Bulldog rally in the final minutes to hold on for the victory.
The Bulldogs trailed by as much as 13 three different times in the game and were down by as much as 12 with 3:42 left in the fourth quarter.
But Sikeston, the top ranked team in Class 4, had one final rally to make a game of it, going on a 13-4 run and getting as close as 69-66 on a Reese Porter basket with five seconds left.
But with no timeouts and powerless to stop the clock, for all intents and purposes, the game was over. Maplewood did inbound the ball to Corey Frazier, Jr., who hit 1 of 2 free throws with 1.4 seconds remaining to reach the final margin.
"I think we played an outstanding team tonight -- they came in on a mission and did everything they could to beat us," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "It's great competition and I think down the road it will help us."
The Blue Devils came in with a game-plan to eliminate Bulldog point guard Vashawn Ruffin from the equation by putting its best defender on him and jumping him with double-teams throughout the game.
The strategy worked, as Ruffin was held to two points and five assists.
"I'm telling you, I watched film on (Sikeston) for the last two weeks," Frazier said. "I've been on it, watching where Vashawn wants the ball, where he handles the ball, the whole nine yards. We wanted to take the ball out of his hands and make somebody else beat us."
It was a roll of the dice defensively for the Blue Devils, as it opened up room for Sikeston's J.T. Jones to operate.
The 6-foot-3 junior had a stellar game, scoring 24 points with a season-high 16 rebounds.
"We couldn't contain 32 (Jones)," Frazier said. "He is a hell of a player. I really like that kid. He controlled us. He is for real. I agree with everybody on semoball, he is the real deal. He plays with a lot of heart. We had to give up something and we couldn't let both of them beat us."
Maplewood had its own offensive weapons led by athletic 6-3 wing Kahlid Hagens, who finished with a game-high 26 points, including three 3-pointers.
The Blue Devils were red hot from beyond the arc, sinking 7 of 9 in the game.
"They really played well and they shot the basketball great," Holifield said. "The bottom line is they are a really good team."
Sikeston started the game well, leading 10-7 on a Jairius Ray free throw with 2:56 left in the first quarter.
But Maplewood closed the quarter on a 9-2 run highlighted by a steal and slam dunk by 6-5 senior Aaron Collins to lead 16-12 after one.
The Blue Devils began to take control in the second quarter as they heated up from the 3-point line.
Hagens went baseline for a jam to extend the lead to double digits, followed up by Caleb Greenwalt's third 3-pointer of the first half, to match its biggest lead of the night at 35-22 with two minutes left in the half.
Sikeston was able to get a basket by Markeith Bratcher and two free throws by Jones to cut the lead to 35-26 by halftime.
Maplewood was 5 of 6 from the 3-point line in the first half.
The Bulldogs (13-1) made a run early in the third quarter as Jones drained a 3-pointer from the left corner and Bratcher sank a 3-pointer in transition from the top of the key that erupted the Sikeston faithful, cutting the Maplewood lead to 38-34 with 4:38 left in the period.
After a timeout called by Frazier to slow down Sikeston's momentum, the Blue Devils quickly had the lead back to double-digits on a basket by Hagens, two free throws from Frazier Jr., and a basket by Wes Williams.
The lead ballooned to 13 twice more on a Hagens 3 and a jumper by 6-6 forward Aaron Spudich.
A conventional 3-point play by Jones and an inside basket by Porter cut the Maplewood lead to 53-45 entering the fourth.
Each time Sikeston appeared to be on a run, the Blue Devils would get a crucial basket, including four offensive putbacks by 6-foot-8 post Devontai Halfacre.
"We knew they weren't going to stop," coach Frazier said. "They've got that type of program. (Holifield) teaches them well. He's got some good kids on that team. We never expected them to fold up and quit on us. We knew they were going to make a run and that's why we schedule games like this. We wanted to be tested."
Despite a significant size disadvantage, the Bulldogs dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Blue Devils 43 to 24.
They also forced 17 turnovers on the Blue Devils.
"I thought we really rebounded well considering their size and athleticism, but the bottom line is they put it in the basket and we struggled making shots in the first half," Holifield said.
The poor shooting by the Bulldogs proved to be the difference in the game, making just 2 of 15 (13 percent) from 3-point range and just 23 of 65 (35 percent) overall from the field.
"We did the necessary things to win the game," said Frazier, whose team was backed by a large contingent of his hometown Charleston fans, including his former coach Lennies McFerren. "We took care of the basketball. We wanted to slow them down. We wanted to see if we could get them to play our pace. We dictated, pretty much, the tempo of the game."
Corey Frazier, Jr., finished with 12 points for the Blue Devils.
Sikeston finished with 18 turnovers to just 16 assists.
Porter had a double-double, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Bratcher added a season-high 16 points with six rebounds and five steals.
The Bulldogs were 18 of 22 (82 percent) from the free throw line.
With Ruffin being shown so much defensive attention, Holifield knows he will need other ball-handlers to step up.
"We've got other players that can play," Holifield said. "I thought Markeith really stepped up and played well tonight. I thought J.T. did a good job banging inside and really played well. And I thought Reese Porter really played well. We have a lot of players and when we see that we will need to handle it better. There's no doubt about it that our players understand we have a lot of work to do and we will continue to do so."
Maplewood becomes the first non-conference opponent to defeat Sikeston at the Field House since Jan. 2007 against Portageville.
Friday's meeting was the second-ever between Sikeston and Maplewood. They first met in the Poplar Bluff Showdown in 2007, an 83-58 Sikeston victory against the eventual Class 3 champion Blue Devils.
Sikeston will play at Farmington on Tuesday.
MAPLEWOOD (70) -- Kahlid Hagens 26, Corey Frazier 12, Caleb Greenwalt 9, Devontai Halfacre 8, Aaron Spudich 7, Wes Williams 5, Aaron Collins 3. FG 19, FT 11-20, F 19. (3-pointers: Hagens 3, Greenwalt 3, Williams 1. Fouled out: none).
SIKESTON (66) -- J.T. Jones 24, Markeith Bratcher 16, Reese Porter 13, Jairius Ray 7, Zach Jackson 2, Vashawn Ruffin 2, Dantrell Brown 2. FG 21, FT 18-22, F 16. (3-pointers: Jones 1, Bratcher 1. Fouled out: none).
The Sikeston J.V. team improved to 7-2 on the season with a 60-33 victory over Maplewood.
Sikeston led 21-11 after one quarter and 35-18 by halftime.
The Bulldogs were led by Dantrell Brown's 12 points. Chris Scott added 11 points. Cedric McIntyre led the team with seven rebounds.
MAPLEWOOD (33) -- Cameron Clemons 9, Ralph Liska 8, Satchel McDonald 6, Ramon Agard 4, Gabe Jackson 3, Lamar Agard 2, Kendal Nelson 1. FG 11, FT 5-13, F 11. (3-pointers: Liska 2. Fouled out: none).
SIKESTON (60) -- Dantrell Brown 12, Chris Scott 11, Dominique Dyes 6, Juwon Kimble 6, Jaylen Mallory 5, Ja'lon Marr 4, Luke Williams 4, Cedric McIntyre 4, Earnest Fobbs 3, Marquese Parks 3, Zach Harrison 2. FG 22, FT 4-12, F 15. (3-pointers: Scott 2, Fobbs 1, Mallory 1. Fouled out: none).