The Nixa Eagles are embracing the concept of team defense.
Nixa put together what one of its best defensive performances of the season in Friday night’s COC-Large matchup with rival Ozark, limiting the Tigers to 21 first-half points en route to a 73-52 home win.
“We’re starting to guard,” said Eagles coach Jay Osborne. “I thought, defensively, we were as good as we’ve been in a long time.”
After a lackluster showing in the Blue and Gold, Nixa’s 8-1 since the calendar turned to 2017, with the lone loss coming by four points (61-57) to Kickapoo.
Nixa’s only allowed two opponents – Kickapoo and Blue Springs South – to surpass the 60-point mark during its month-long defensive improvement.
“Our defense really struggled at the beginning of the year because we just wanted to be an offensive team,” said Eagles senior Christian Bundy. “We were kind of lazy. We’ve really focused on staying low, getting conditioned and playing defense.”
Bundy had a large role in Nixa’s offensive and defensive prowess against Ozark on Friday. He scored a game-high 18 points, had three blocks and issued several assists to Nixa’s array of perimeter shooters.
“Inside-out mentality always makes people better shooters,” Osborne said. “If it goes inside, because (Ozark) is doubling all the time, you can always find someone to hit a shoot from the outside.”
The Eagles made seven 3-pointers on the night: two apiece by Nathan Elmer and Braeden Combs, and three by Evan Bergmann.
“It’s great,” Bundy said. “It relieves a lot of pressure on me because when they’re hitting shots, it gives me that one-on-one opportunity inside, so then I get my points.”
THE NEW O-ZONE APP IS HERE!
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR APPLE
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR ANDROID
Nixa locked up Ozark in the first half with a physical, man-to-man defense. The Eagles limited Ozark to only one made field goal during a five-minute stretch of the second quarter, extending a 27-16 lead up to 40-21 by halftime.
“(Defense) has always been a process for us,” Osborne said. “I didn’t think we were a very good defensive team in December. These past few weeks, we’ve done a really nice job. Our intelligence is getting better – about when to help, when not to help.”
Osborne praised the defensive efforts of junior Nathan Elmer, who has recently cracked the starting lineup for his defense and shooting. Elmer frequently guarded Ozark sharpshooter Quinn Nelson in the first half, and while Nelson finished with a team-high 16 points, only two of those points came before halftime.
“I can’t say enough about Nathan Elmer and what he did tonight, especially in the first half when he held Quinn Nelson to two points,” Osborne said. “Nelson is a really tough matchup.”
Nixa led from start to finish and never let the Tigers get closer than 15 points in the second half.
Seth Viebrock (15), Braeden Combs (13) and Evan Bergmann also scored in double figures for the Eagles, who improved 18-2 overall and 3-0 in the COC-Large.
“I think our ball distribution is good,” Osborne said. “I’m really proud of our effort. This is a good win, a big conference win for us.”
The outcome gave the regular season series to Nixa, 2-1. Ozark won 59-47 at the Blue and Gold Tournament in December, while Nixa won 70-51 in the finals of the Nixa Invitational Tournament last weekend.
Ozark fell to 11-8 overall and 1-1 in the COC-Large.
The Tigers play at Willard on Tuesday. Nixa hosts Carl Junction the same night.
Nixa 73, Ozark 52
Ozark 10 11 13 18 — 52
Nixa 19 21 15 18 — 73
Ozark – Quinn Nelson 16, Parker Hanks 12, Payton Nichols 11, Noah Suiter 6, Garrett Reinke 3, Carter Burgess 2, Kurt Gracey 2
Nixa – Christian Bundy 18, Seth Viebrock 15, Braeden Combs 13, Evan Bergmann 11, Nathan Elmer 8, Austin Bracker 4, Drew Canady 4
Nixa JV 68, Ozark JV 62
Nixa freshmen 53, Ozark freshmen 44