You could hear a pin drop.
Writhing in pain on the floor was Nixa all-state forward Jalen Norman, holding his knee.
With the Eagles clinging to a 26-24 lead against Bullitt East, the No. 1 team in Kentucky, Nixa fans knew someone would have to step up if they were to win the game.
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Enter Chan Hocklander?
The senior guard exploded for a 14 point second half, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter, to help send the Eagles to the semifinals of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions Thursday night at JQH Arena with a 62-53 win over Bullitt East.
“He’s hit big shots for us in the past. He had some nice ones tonight. He didn’t turn the ball over. He played within himself, didn’t try to do too much. That’s what we tell our kids, don’t try to do too much, keep it simple,” said Nixa coach Jay Osborne of his senior guard.
Nixa reeled off nine straight points following the injury to Norman to open up a 35-24 lead midway through the third quarter. Although Norman had 15 of the 26 Eagle points at the time of his injury, Nixa didn’t miss a beat without one of its all-time greats.
“We responded to Jalen’s injury and had an excellent second half without one of our best players. That goes a long way for our kids, and their character, and their desire. We had some kids step up in a big environment, against a big time opponent. We played really well, I’m real happy for our team. We were really balanced tonight, and that’s a good sign,” said Osborne.
The third quarter rally came down to Nixa’s zone defense, something Coach Osborne was reluctant to run.
“I’m a man-to-man guy, it’s hard for me to sometimes go zone, but we were having success with it. They were running time, having trouble getting good looks, and I thought our rotation was great, and we rebounded well out of it which is always a concern with a zone,” said Osborne.
In fact, the Eagles were able to hold the much larger Chargers front line (6-foot-9, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-5), to only a plus-one advantage on the glass, holding Kentucky commit Derek Willis to just eight rebounds.
Nixa also turned the ball over just seven times, the lowest total for any team in the opening round.
“We have two goals, don’t turn the ball over, and rebound. We did those two things. That’s a good sign. That’s a sign of a good team,” said Osborne.
The fourth quarter was rather uneventful. The Chargers cut the Nixa lead to 45-40 with five minutes left in the game, however back-to-back treys by Hocklander and junior Bryce Dulin pushed the advantage back to 11, ending the rally.
In addition to Hocklander’s 17 and Norman’s 15, Nixa received 13 from Missouri State signee Austin Ruder and 10 points from Dulin. Dulin also added six assists and four rebounds for the Eagles.
Bullitt East received 17 points from Willis.
Despite the marquee win for his program, Coach Osborne and his kids know there is more to be done.
“It is a great opportunity. It’s a chance to showcase our program, and we’re quite proud of our players. We’re going to enjoy it, but we need to win the game. I don’t care who you’re playing, the game is 32 minutes. They can have 10 All-Americans, but you can only play five at a time. It’s their five against our five. We can do some things, we can adjust some things. If we can keep them in front of us, rebound, and not turn the ball over we have a chance,” said Osborne.
However, it will have to be done without Norman.
“He’s out for the weekend, the preliminaries look like maybe two or three weeks. We will look at it long term and hopefully have him back for districts,” said Osborne.
Nixa moves on to play Montverde in the second semifinal Friday night at 9 p.m. Bullitt East will play Little Rock Hall at 6 p.m.
Montverde 60, Little Rock Hall 45
It could be jet lag.
The time difference.
Or even the cold.
Whatever the reason, the top high school team in the country came a little sluggish in the opening round Thursday night.
However, behind 15 points and eight rebounds from Kentucky commit Dakari Johnson, the Eagles move on to the semifinals with an unimpressive 60-45 win over Little Rock Hall.
In a game that was billed to be one of the ages, featuring four players in the top 25 of their respective class, the crowd (which began filing out early in the second quarter) saw lots of turnovers (36 combined), lots of trash talk, and little worthwhile basketball.
Little Rock Hall, who never held a lead after the opening quarter, was led by Arkansas commit Bobby Portis’ (No. 14 in 2013) 15 points.