By John Miller
Jay Osborne has confidence in his team’s ability to execute inbounds plays. On Tuesday night, they showed why.
Trailing Willard 43-42 with 4.9 seconds to play, Nixa drew up an inbounds play, lobbed the ball into the paint to senior forward Austin Bracker. He turned, kissed the ball of the glass and got fouled, helping Nixa escape Willard with a 44-43 win in its conference opener on Tuesday night.
“We feel good about our inbounds plays,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “We feel comfortable with what we ran there. It’s hard to guard. We’ve got some athletes who can go get that toss up there.”
Bracker caught the ball about five feet out in the paint, leaned in left of the basket, and finished the game-winner.
“We discussed it for the three or four timeouts that were called there in a row,” said Bracker, who finished with 12 points and five boards in the win. “We discussed what play to run. It’s one of our go-to plays.”
Houston Johnson led Willard with 17 points and eight rebounds. Christian Bundy scored 17 points for Nixa. Kenny Chambers had 14 points in the loss.
Nixa (12-1, 1-0 Central Ozark Conference) battled Willard’s ball-control offense all night. The Tigers’ ultra-patient offensive approach allowed them to possess the basketball for 19:55 on Tuesday. They had five possessions that lasted at least 50 seconds. One went for 80 seconds. Another went for 90.
“We need a shot clock,” Osborne said. “That’s all I can say. I’ll just keep it at that. It’s about time.”
Willard’s strategy of taking air of the basketball helped the Tigers hang around. They trailed 10-8 after one and 23-22 at halftime.
“They did a great job of holding the ball, extending the game, and making us play,” Bracker said.
Nixa opened the third quarter on an 8-0 spurt thanks to a 3-pointer from Seth Viebrock and back-to-back layups from Bundy. They stretched it to a 32-23 lead later in the period after Bracker made a pair of free throws. But Willard’s ability to rebound kept them alive and helped them claw back in it.
Willard (8-6, 0-1 COC) out-rebounded Nixa 21-15 on the night and had four offensive rebounds in the final quarter.
“We did a great job of defending them and then, we wouldn’t rebound the ball,” Osborne said. “We had them take shots we wanted them to take. Why guard so hard and get them to take a bad shot if you’re going to let them have the ball wherever they want? It’s very frustrating.”
Chambers’ bucket with 4:49 to play brought Willard within 39-37. On the next possession, Willard patiently worked the ball around the floor for 44 seconds until Quintin Batson sunk a baseline jumper, giving Willard its first lead since the first half. Johnson followed with a layup, and the Tigers’ lead stretched to 43-40—its biggest of the night.
Nixa went 5:24 without a field goal until Braeden Combs finished a layup with 1:46 to play. After each team went empty on back-to-back offensive possessions, Nixa had the ball underneath the basket and Bracker finished the game-winner. Nixa intercepted Willard’s desperation full-court pass on the ensuing in-bounds play after Bracker’s free throw was no good and Willard called timeout.
“Austin’s been playing really well for us the past few weeks,” Osborne said. “He’s been holding us together.”
Nixa shot 48 percent from the floor (16-for-33) and made two of four 3-point attempts. Willard shot 49 percent (17-for-35) and 42 percent from behind the arc (5-for-12).
Nixa 10 13 14 7 44
Willard 8 14 9 12 43
Nixa: Bundy 17, Bracker 12, Combs 7, Bergmann 3, Elmer 3, Viebrock 2
Willard: Johnson 17, Chambers 14, Batson 4, Bird 3, Jackson 3