By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Nevada basketball coach Shaun Gray has watched every game Joplin has played this year.
When the two teams met in the championship game of the 73rd Carthage Invitational on Saturday afternoon, Gray had a plan.
“They really love to shoot the three and that really gets them going,” he said. “When you make them score in a way they’re not comfortable scoring, most teams at the high school level seem to struggle and hats off to our guys because they executed the game plan and ran them off the three point line really well.”
Gray’s strategy worked and Joplin went scoreless for a nine-minute stretch as Nevada cruised to a 44-29 victory.
Saturday’s win was the third double-digit victory of the tournament for the Tigers (5-0). It marked the third-straight year Joplin and Nevada played in the Carthage tournament, and the first Nevada win in that stretch.
Nevada led 14-8 after a quarter and built a seven-point lead in the second before Joplin (2-2) used a 9-0 run to lead 19-17 after a three-point play by senior Dakarai Allen with 3:04 left in the first half.
It was the last time the Eagles would lead – and the last time they would score for a period of nine minutes and 25 seconds.
Nevada, meanwhile, went into the locker room with a 20-19 advantage after junior Logan McNeley made a three pointer with 10 seconds left in the half.
Tigers’ big man Dalton Gayman, a 6-foot-6 senior who’s committed to Arkansas-Fort Smith, took control of the game in the second half. After scoring nine points in the first half – all in the first quarter – Gayman scored twice more in the third to help open up a seven-point lead. He added eight more points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of dunks, and finished with a game-high 23 points.
“He really kind of put us on his back in the second half because they keyed on (Logan) Applegate and tried not to let him have any touches and Dalton was just a monster on the glass and attacking the paint,” Gray said.
“I think Dalton’s a very good player. We made it a little easy on him tonight,” said Joplin coach Jeff Hafer. “He did a lot of catching and dunking and catching and laying up. That’s because those guards are very good at handling some pressure, getting to the paint and making some good plays. He’s a good player, the bigger issue is he just worked really well away from the ball and let those guards set him up and he knocked them down.”
Nevada led 28-21 after three quarters and led 38-21 with 3:37 remaining. Joplin, which failed to score on its first six possessions of the fourth quarter, finally broke the drought at the 3:22 mark when Allen made a three pointer.
Gayman followed a minute later with another dunk and Nevada was content to play keep away after that.
Gray said his team’s long offensive possessions helped limit Joplin’s scoring.
“Then when they got the ball back I don’t think they had the patience,” he said. “I think they wanted to try to get the pace going, didn’t play with great patience on that end and hats off to coach Hafer and the Joplin Eagles. They’re a really good team and I think if you play them again they probably hit more shots than they hit tonight. They’re going to win a lot of ballgames and it was a good challenge for us tonight.”
Hafer said the Tigers dictated the pace of the game.
“Their guards did a good job taking control of the game and getting it to Gayman on some isolations,” he said. “We didn’t do a great job of taking those things away. It was a good lesson for us. They did a much better job being ready and prepared to play. That ultimately falls on me. We’ve had some good success the last two nights. Today we ran into a zone defense that neutralized us and we haven’t had a lot of practice time to get everybody acclimated. That’ll help.”
Applegate scored nine points for Nevada and juniors Logan and Lane McNeley each added five.
Joplin was led by Allen’s 12 points. Senior Isaiah Davis added six.