By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — After a slow start, No. 3 Ozark punched its ticket to the Blue Division semifinals with a 57-44 victory over unseeded Stockton Thursday night.
Junior AJ Elliott poured in 14 points, all in the second half, to help Ozark finally secure a win over a pesky upset-minded opponent.
Just one day after knocking out No. 7 Greenwood, Stockton spent the first half trading baskets with its Class 5 opponent before Ozark’s size and speed began taking a toll.
“[Elliott] posed a lot of problems,” Stockton head coach Derald Henderson said. “Between that and all the guards they put out there, it’s a lot of athleticism and a lot of issues you’ve got to deal with. It posed a pretty good challenge for us.”
Senior Clayton Hubbard helped pace the Stockton attack and kept the Tigers within striking distance of their mascot counterparts from the south.
Hubbard notched 10 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, and a 3-pointer midway through the second quarter gave the 6-foot-2 guard 1,000 points for his career.
Despite the slow start, Ozark was able to maintain control thanks to a quartet of second-quarter 3-pointers from senior Caleb Holzer and junior Troy Davidson.
Ozark head coach Mark Schweitzer was pleased with his team’s effort, Holzer in particular for recent long-range success.
“Caleb can shoot it when his feet are set, and he gathers himself, and it’s nice and square,” Schweitzer said. “He’s got a good stroke.”
Ozark held a narrow, 23-20 lead at the break; however, the Tigers managed to find another defensive gear in the third quarter.
Ozark held Stockton to six points in the quarter, while notching 17 of their own.
By the time the quarter ended, the Ozark lead had stretched its lead to 14 at 40-26.
“I thought our kids were a little bit more aggressive,” Schweitzer said. “They were a little bit more assertive. We got more ball pressure on them, and I thought we caused some turnovers.”
In the fourth, Elliott and the inside game took over for Ozark.
The 6-foot-5 forward scored 9 points to help thwart a late Stockton charge featuring a quartet of 3-pointers from Hubbard and junior Drew Wheeler.
“Towards the end, [Stockton] kind of laid off on that zone a lot,” Elliott said. “They kind of went to a match-up zone, and it was easier for me to seal guys and go to work from there.”
Schweitzer credited his team for executing halftime adjustments geared towards exploiting Elliott’s interior mismatch.
“I thought our guards did a great job of including [Elliott] in the second half versus the first half,” Schweitzer said. “He didn’t really get as many touches, which is one of the things we talked about at half. When he scores, we usually win.”
Elliott was joined in double figures by Holzer and Kristian Cooper, who scored 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Despite the loss, Henderson believes the holiday tournament will pay big dividends for his team late in the season.
“These games aren’t on the schedule every day,” Henderson said. “So, every one you can get against a Class 5 that’s got better athletes at a lot of positions who have skill, that’s good. You have to face that, and we’re going to have to go through that if we’re going to complete our goals at the end of the year. That gives us an example of what that looks like.”
Wheeler and Jacob Greenlee each added 11 points for Stockton.
Next up for Ozark (7-3) is a Blue Division semifinal matchup against Republic on Friday. Stockton (9-1) faces Mansfield in the fifth-place bracket that same day.
Blue Division Quarterfinal: Ozark – 57, Stockton – 44
Ozark 09 14 17 17 — 57
Stockton 07 13 06 18 — 44
Ozark scoring: AJ Elliott – 14, Caleb Holzer – 13, Kristian Cooper – 10, Troy Davidson – 9, Parker Ramsdell – 4, Christian Drake – 4, Alonzo Riwa – 3
Stockton scoring: Clayton Hubbard – 19, Jacob Greenlee – 11, Drew Wheeler – 11, Gannon Kenney – 3