It wasn’t quite a Tuesday night in the Big 8.
Defending Blue and Gold champion Springfield Catholic ran into one of the nation’s top programs Thursday night.
McEachern (Ga.) cruised to a 75-42 win over Catholic in a Tournament of Champions quarterfinal matchup at JQH Arena. The Indians, No. 2 in USA Today’s first Super 25 rankings for 2019, led by 39 at halftime and shot 54 percent from the field overall.
The outcome gave Catholic, 16-1 overall and ranked No. 2 in Class 3, its first loss of the season.
“This is something you don’t really see every day in southwest Missouri,” said Irish coach Dustin Larsen. “For us, our end goal this season with a big group of seniors is to finish at a very high position in the state of Missouri.
“Playing a team like that is only going to help us in this journey.”
McEachern blitzed Catholic from the start. The Indians scored the game’s first 19 points and led 26-4 after the first quarter.
Sharife Cooper, a consensus top-3 guard nationally in the Class of 2020, poured in 28 points on 12-for-17 shooting from the field.
Senior Isaac Okoro, a 6’6” wing and Auburn signee, added 16 points, six rebounds and a couple of crowd-pleasing dunks.
“They work harder than any kids I’ve ever had,” Indians coach Mike Thompson said of his high-scoring duo. “Therefore, it seems, they’re better than any kids I’ve ever had.”
Cooper knew about the Tournament of Champions’ reputation.
“Watching this tournament on YouTube and the things you see on social media, just being here… it’s a blessing,” Cooper said. “Playing in front of this crowd, bright lights and big stage, it’s fun.”
Added Thompson: “It’s second to nobody. What amazes me is the crowds you have. They come to watch players that they don’t know.”
Tyson Riley and Charlie O’Reilly scored 10 apiece to lead Catholic. Riley, who recently committed to play football at Army, often drew the task of guarding Okoro.
“I’m used to being one of the bigger guys on the court and that guy’s like 6’6” and built like a football player,” Riley said. “To see him do dunks like that and then step out, take a 3 and swish it… you don’t see that every day.”
Catholic shot 17-for-57 from the field, including 6-for-24 on 3-point attempts. The teams combined for only seven total free throws.
McEachern (16-0 overall) faces Shadow Mountain (Ari.) at 9:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinal round. Catholic plays Belleville West (Ill.) at 6 p.m. on the consolation side.
“I’ve been coming to this tournament every year since I was like 7 or 8 years old,” O’Reilly said. “We’re smiling and everything now, but it sucks to lose. We hate it. We’re competitive guys. But we can’t help but smile about this (tournament) because it’s a great thing to be in.”
McEachern (Ga.) 75, Springfield Catholic 42
Catholic 4 9 16 13 — 42
McEachern 26 24 20 5 – 75
Catholic – Tyson Riley 10, Charlie O’Reilly 10, Jake Branham 9, Will Squibb 5, Ben Galligos 3, Zach Howell 3, Mike Manzardo 2
McEachern – Sharife Cooper 28, Isaac Okoro 16, Alyn Breed 12, DJ Collins 8, Jarod Jones 2, Demetrius Davis 2, Braden Sparks 2, Noah Greene 2, Maurice Clipper 2, Stephon Juime 1
House carries Shadow Mountain past Belleville West
Jaelen House, the son of 11-year NBA veteran Eddie House, showed that scoring is truly in his blood.
Jaelen, a 6’1” guard, poured in a game-high 31 points to lift Shadow Mountain (Ari.) past Belleville West (Ill.) 74-57 and into the Tournament of Champions semifinals. He went 6-for-11 on 3-point attempts and made nine of 14 free throws.
Following in dad’s footsteps, Jaelen has committed to play at Arizona State.
In a decisive third quarter, the Matadors outscored Belleville West 27-10 to pull away for good. Shadow Mountain faces McEachern (Ga.) at 9:30 p.m. in Friday’s semifinals.
EJ Liddell, an Ohio State signee, led the Maroons with 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Shadow Mountain coach Mike Bibby, who played 14 seasons in the NBA, received a technical foul in the second half. The teams combined for 42 fouls and 43 free throw attempts.
Shadow Mountain (Ari.) 74, Belleville West (Ill.) 57
Belleville West 14 12 10 21 — 57
Shadow Mountain 15 16 27 16 — 74
Belleville West – EJ Liddell 16, Will Shumpert 12, Lawrence Brazil III 11, Keith Randolph 6, Jaylin Mosby 5, Tommie Williams 4, Marcellus Romious 3
Shadow Mountain – Jaelen House 31, Jovan Blacksher 19, Jalen Williams 8, Malik Lamin 6, Davon Cobbs 4, DeVontes Cobbs 2, Ramsey Penza 2, Christian Allen 2