By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but McEachern and head coach Mike Thompson were able to grind out a victory and advance to Saturday’s Tournament of Champions final.
The Indians downed Shadow Mountain 73-51 in a chaotic, physical matchup that saw both teams combine for 48 fouls and 31 turnovers.
“I thought was kind of a sloppy game,” Thompson said. “It seemed that way at times, but I think when both teams are playing at a fast pace sometimes that happens. Athletes are so good today — they just get going so fast — that things just get kind of out of whack.”
Pace and play devolved at times; however, McEachern — the nation’s No. 2 ranked team — showcased an arsenal of ball movement, shooting and relentless attacks at the rim.
The Indians stormed out to a 16-point advantage early in the second quarter, paced by Sharife Cooper.
Cooper, a five-star junior prospect, scored 15 of his game-high 31 points in the opening half, including a first-quarter buzzer-beater from just inside the half court line.
While the 6-foot-1 guard fell prey to sloppy, turnover-prone play at times, Thompson was quick to point out it’s all part of Cooper’s evolving capabilities.
“We kind of have an understanding that I’m going to let him play his game,” Thompson said. “I told him when he came here, ‘I’m gonna give you the ball and, for four years, you’re gonna lead our team.’ When you do that, you have to take some of the stuff that you don’t really like, along with the great stuff that he does. Fortunately for us, he does a lot more great stuff.”
Cooper was joined in double figures by teammates Isaac Okoro and Jarod Jones, who added 14 and 12 points, respectively for the Indians. The Indians also enjoyed a dominant, 46-29 advantage on the boards.
Okoro, a 6-foot-6 Auburn signee, brought the JQH Arena crowd to its feet with a thunderous, alley-oop dunk early in the second quarter during a 15- 3 McEachern run.
Despite the slow start, Shadow Mountain eventually found its groove midway through the second quarter.
Jovan Blacksher sparked the Matador rally with a trio of 3-pointers in succession.
The 6-foot-1 senior’s personal, 9-0 run cut the lead to 34-28 and brought Shadow Mountain back into the game.
“Anytime you have two teams playing like that, and you get ahead of a team, they’re going to come back because they’re a great team,” Thompson said. “For us, sometimes defensively we may have had a lapse, or we didn’t we didn’t cover one of the guys that can really shoot the basketball.”
McEachern led 38-32 at the half.
In the third quarter, scoring for both teams took a nosedive, as neither squad was able to reach the double-digit mark.
Leading 46-41 after three, the Indians turned to Cooper in hopes of reigniting the offense.
“Sometimes we take shots that probably — in a game like that — you might have wanted to settle it down little bit, but that’s just not how we play,” Thompson said. “I think the one thing that we do is, when we got to the fourth quarter, and Sharife went to a set for us that we we run some clock in — but we can still score out of — it calmed us down and we were able to do better offensively.”
McEachern was able to thwart Shadow Mountain’s fourth-quarter rally primarily at the free throw line.
The Indians connected on 15 of 19 attempts in the final frame and were able to seal the victory by converting the final six shots of the game.
For Shadow Mountain and head coach Mike Bibby, a quick turnaround awaits.
Bibby, who picked up his second technical foul of the weekend in the first quarter, was pleased with his team’s effort and hoped to see better spacing in the tournament’s final game.
“They’re coming off there and switching the pick-and-roll, and our spacing wasn’t good,” Bibby said. “So, it made it harder for our guys to kind of make plays. We have a problem with spacing and, sometimes, we try to crowd the ball and run to the ball, and it was affecting our offense tonight.”
Jaelen House led Shadow Mountain with 24 points. He was joined in double figures by Blacksher’s 16.
Varsity Final: McEachern – 73, Shadow Mountain – 61
McEachern 24 14 08 27 — 73
Shadow Mtn 10 22 09 20 — 61
McEachern scoring: Sharife Cooper – 31, Isaac Okoro – 14, Jarod Jones – 12, Alyn Breed – 8, Quinton McElroy – 7, Maurice Clipper – 1
Shadow Mountain scoring: Jaelen House – 24, Jovan Blacksher – 16, Ramsey Penza – 7, DeVontes Cobbs – 5, Jalen WIlliams – 3, Christian Allen – 2, Malik Lamin – 2, Davon Cobbs – 2