Ozark’s gameplan on Thursday night was simple: prevent Nixa, particularly sharpshooter Taylor Arnold, from unleashing a 3-point barrage.
Safe to say, after limiting the Eagles to only four made 3-pointers, Ozark accomplished its defensive mission.
The Tigers got 37 combined points from the senior-freshman duo of Mikayla Putt and Madi Braden, and withstood multiple Nixa rallies in the second half to emerge with a 60-49 victory in the rivalry matchup.
“In practice this week, the focus has been, ‘Stop the shooters, stop the shooters.’ We did a really good job with that tonight,” Putt said.
Added Ozark coach David Brewer: “(Nixa) feeds off the 3, and they only hit four for the game. That was our goal – four or fewer 3-pointers by Nixa – so that was a big key.”
Ozark led nearly the entire game, including by 10 at one point early in the fourth quarter, but Nixa cut into the Tigers’ leads multiple times.
Nixa’s final rally saw the Eagles get within 49-46 with just over two minutes remaining. Braden, a freshman, answered in a big way with a deep 3-pointer that put Ozark in front (52-46) for good. Braden in-bounded the ball from the baseline, came around a screen, and found her spot.
“That (shot) wasn’t really what I was looking for with that possession, but, Madi has the green light,” Brewer said. “She didn’t get a lot of space tonight, Nixa did a good job on her. If she would’ve missed (the shot), I probably would’ve been all right with it anyway because she’s such a good shooter.”
A few minutes earlier, Nixa had trailed 47-46 and missed a shot near the basket, which Ozark quickly converted into a transition layup to go up by three.
Ozark led 31-23 at halftime, but Nixa closed the margin within 41-37 going into the fourth quarter. The Tigers scored on their first three possessions of the fourth quarter to go in front by 10 (47-37).
“I felt like we’d extend the lead and were about to put (Nixa) away a little bit, then we had some low-quality possessions where Nixa got the deficit back down to three or four points,” Brewer said. “That’s the things we have to get better at.”
Nixa’s top three scorers on the night were underclassmen. Junior Halley Wiggins (12), sophomore Lakin Copeland (11) and freshman Emily Edwards (9) combined for 32 points to lead Nixa, which fell to 10-11 overall and 1-3 in the COC-Large.
Ozark improved to 12-6 overall and 3-0 in the COC-Large, continuing its upward trend in 2017. After a blowout loss to Rock Bridge on Jan. 3, Ozark’s won six of its last seven games, the only loss in that span coming by one point.
Ozark’s had notable wins of late against Kickapoo (62-58 on Jan. 24) and Salem (59-48 on Jan. 28).
“Knowing we can play with those really good teams is a big deal,” Putt said. “Wins like these, beating Kickapoo, show us and everyone else that we can play at that high level. We just have to prove that each time.”
Ozark returns to action Monday night at Willard. Nixa hosts Carl Junction the same night.
Ozark 60, Nixa 49
Ozark 15 15 11 19 — 60
Nixa 8 15 14 12 — 49
Ozark – Mikayla Putt 22, Madi Braden 15, Macey Putt 10, Morgan Doyle 8, Bre Johnson 5
Nixa – Halley Wiggins 12, Lakin Copeland 11, Emily Edwards 9, Lakyn Wools 6, Taylor Arnold 5, Bissett Michaelson 3, Kelsey Biro 3
Ozark JV 48, Nixa JV 41
Nixa freshmen 37, Ozark freshmen 30