By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NIXA — Nixa Eagles boys basketball Hall of Fame head coach Jay Osborne had yet to see the scrappy, hard-nosed defensive effort so far this season.
Well, Osborne can mark that bullet point off his to-do list, as his Eagles (4-2) soared to the 73-40 final over the Glendale Falcons at Tuesday’s home opener at Nixa High School.
Grittiness, crashing the boards on the offensive end, diving on the court for 50-50 balls with reckless abandon, and timely passing and shooting around the perimeter all keyed the win for Osborne and company.
“First thing, it felt really good to be home,” Osborne said. “The kids play well in this gym. Secondly, we played with some swagger. We played with an attitude. We actually played hard.”
The swagger made its appearance at the onset, as a stingy perimeter and inside defensive attack complemented the precision shooting from the outside, as senior Josh Mason — who hit the 3-pointer for the game’s first bucket on the night — led all scoring with his 24-point outing — and his Eagles never trailed in the game.
For Osborne, though, the stiff play on one end of the court resonates more soundly.
Added Osborne: “We tried to guard better. I thought we did a good job defensively, and we tried to rebound. Defensive rebounds, all that is effort. You have to have good effort. They probably don’t like me right now because I wasn’t real nice at practice yesterday.”
The defense forced four turnovers in the first quarter, and the offense was led by Mason and Kaleb Wofford — as two connected for nine points beyond the arc: a common theme on this night.
The two teams matched each other’s production in the second quarter, as the Eagles extended the lead to 29-22 at the half.
A buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Karter Lowry made things a bit more interesting come intermission.
While the Falcons kept clawing down the deficit to eight and 10 points at multiple junctures throughout the first 16 minutes of play, the Eagles stayed true to their course: feeding freshman Kael Combs in the paint, and allowing Mason and Wofford to find their sweet spots from the arc.
The two accounted for 27 points from downtown, and Combs’ 17 points and mere presence in the lane made the comeback a bit more daunting.
While added opportunities came via offense rebounds for the Eagles, eliminating those chances for the opposition proved just as vital.
“It is a pretty simple game. To play our level and the way we want to play, defense and rebounding have to be a priority. I thought we played well defensively tonight,” Osborne said. “We just hadn’t had this attitude … I am going to go get this rebound. I think we can improve on this. I saw some things tonight I really liked. We have guys who can shoot; that’s not the problem. We have to play a complete game on both ends of the floor.”
With the Falcons still in striking distance, most notably the play of Carter Harrell (led team with 16 points) and Isaac Hill (eight points), the Eagles knew the first possessions of the third quarter were crucial to sustaining the momentum ride for the duration.
Mason hit a quick two, and Wofford sized up his shot from 3-point land, and the Eagles were off and running once again, as the duo drained 12 points from beyond the arc, as Nixa cruised to the 56-33 lead at the end of the third.
“The third, I came out and started shooting, and they started falling,” Mason said, who finished with 10 points in the quarter. “I wasn’t using my legs toward the end of the second quarter, so I started getting my feet under me and it felt better.”
Mason said while the third-quarter execution was paramount to the win, the first quarter can be viewed upon as the more critical component.
Added Mason: “We wanted to come out and make a statement with our defense. Coach has been stressing about being strong on defense for a couple of weeks now.”
The defense forced nine Glendale turnovers.
Scoring for Nixa: Mason (24), Wofford (14), Engleman (8), Combs (17), Piepmeier, Ruffin, Jones and Collard all finished with two points apiece.
Scoring for Glendale: Harrell (16), Hill (8), Lowry (7), Crosby (4), Osborn (2) and Cooper (2).