By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WEBB CITY, Mo. – Playing each other in a conference basketball game for the first time in more than 50 years, the Joplin boys never trailed in a 72-62 win at Webb City on Tuesday night.
The Eagles also avenged a 10-point loss to the Cardinals on Saturday in the third-place game of Joplin’s Kaminsky Classic.
Tuesday’s contest was a role reversal.
Joplin was ice cold at the start of Saturday’s game and fell behind by double digits in the second half. On Tuesday the Eagles opened up an 11-4 lead to start and went ahead by as many as 17 points in the second half before fending off a Webb City comeback attempt.
“It’s a great way to start the COC,” Joplin coach Jeff Hafer said. “That was our entry to the COC. It’s great to get that against a very good opponent.”
Joplin led by as many as seven points in the first and held a 17-14 lead at the end of the quarter. A three pointer by freshman Always Wright made it a 23-16 game early in the second. The Cardinals cut it to two points on several different occasions before the half, but baskets by James Moman, Andreis Gaines and Evan Guillory helped the Eagles to a 38-30 halftime advantage.
“We certainly were disappointed after Saturday,” Hafer said. “That’s a good team. I think Webb City is definitely in the upper echelon of our league and they clearly showed that with how they game planned us and played against us on Saturday. I was encouraged by our guys. We had a very good practice (Monday) and they did a great job preparing and the things that were detrimental to us on Saturday, we corrected well.”
Hafer cited the play of Gaines, a junior guard who was inserted into the starting lineup on Tuesday and scored 13 points.
“He brought a lot of defensive energy and also the ability to attack the basket,” he said. “That was important for us because we shot it horrendously on Saturday and we needed to get some things going to the basket. It’s amazing when you do that how shots start to fall even on the outside.”
Gaines put the Eagles ahead by double digits a minute into the third quarter, and junior Isaiah Davis followed with a three pointer to make it 46-32 at the 6:27 mark. Davis scored to cap a 10-0 run a few minutes later, and after a dunk by junior Zach Westmoreland and another Davis basket Joplin led by 18 points with two minutes left in the third.
A Guillory steal and dunk at the 1:33 mark kept Joplin ahead 56-39.
After that, the momentum shifted, albeit briefly.
Webb City scored five straight and then forced a turnover. Joplin’s Blake Tash was whistled for a technical on the play, and Webb City junior Terrell Kabala made two free throws to bring the Cardinals within 10 points at 56-46.
Webb City got the ball, too, with a chance to cut the deficit to single digits but turned it over. The Cardinals would never get closer than 10.
“I thought at that moment with the free throws that it became a game again,” Hafer said.
Guillory, who scored a dozen points in the first half, was limited to just two in the second half until the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. He made 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch and Gaines added six points in the fourth quarter to help Joplin seal the win.
“We weren’t very good defensively,” Webb City coach Jason Horn said. “They made us pay for it. They had some guys get loose, hit open shots. They got the ball to their shooters and our closeouts weren’t very good. Those guys made us pay.”
Guillory led all scorers with 21 points and Gaines and Davis each added 13 for Joplin. Webb City was led by Kabala’s 17 points, while Gaskill and junior Austin Bash each added 11.
“I really felt like he set the table for a lot of guys in the second half,” Hafer said of Guillory. “He scored and he was great on the offensive glass as well but he got to the paint numerous times and kicked it out to guys who were wide open and they made shots tonight. He’s playing at a really controlled pace right now that we’ve been waiting for him to get to and when he plays like that, he rebounds like that, he’s a great defender. He’s a very high level player.”
Joplin improved to 7-8 with the win. Webb City fell to 7-5.
“Joplin is as good as anybody in the COC right now,” Horn said. “It’s a wide open league. Hopefully we keep getting better and we’ll compete for it.”
While Tuesday marked Joplin’s first game in the Central Ozarks Conference, it was also the first time Joplin and Webb City had played a conference basketball game since the schools were members of a version of the Big 8 conference in the 1960’s. Joplin split into two high schools in 1968, and after reforming as one school in the 1980’s played its games in the Ozark Conference until this year.