The game was in doubt up until the very end of a frantic finish. Monett appeared to seize control once and for all after standout senior guard Kyle Woods converted a key three-point play with 5:42 remaining to give the Cubs a 39-31 lead.
That’s when Bolivar’s Chance Rash caught fire. The junior had scored only four points up to that point, but exploded down the stretch with nine points, including a pair of three-pointers, as Bolivar cut the lead to 39-37 in less than a minute-and-a-half.
After a steal by Bolivar’s Bryce Krueger, the freshman passed ahead to a streaking Drew Legan, who was fouled going up for what would have been a game-tying lay-up. The junior hit one-of-two free throws to cut the Monett lead to one at 41-40 with 2:49 left. Monett then went into a stall formation, which worked until the final minute, as Bolivar’s Evan Roberts stole the ball after trapping Woods in front of the Monett bench.
However, the Liberators’ Coday Garrison missed the front end of a one-and-one, with Monett grabbing the rebound. Woods was fouled with 31 seconds left and hit the first of a pair of free throws to give the Cubs a 42-40 lead.
After taking a timeout to set-up a play in the final seconds, the Liberators turned the ball over, and were forced to foul. A missed front end by the Cubs gave Bolivar life once again, as Garrison raced down the court in the waning seconds. His floater was off the mark and after a scramble for the rebound, Rash had his rushed shot attempt blocked. A pass ahead to the Cubs’ streaking Zach Hammond resulted in a breakaway lay-up just ahead of the final buzzer. Monett 44 Bolivar 40.
“That was fun,” said Monett head coach Ty Goetz after the frantic final seconds. “That’s what we talked about before the game. We played well over the weekend, didn’t play very well on Tuesday (in a 62-42 loss at Diamond), then come out and get back to having fun. It’s more fun when you win.”
“I thought we executed our game plan to perfection tonight,” added Goetz. “Our 2-3 zone, when it’s good, we’re pretty good. Tuesday night it wasn’t very good, but it was good over the weekend. We play our zone well and then offensively, we just have to take care of it and we want to keep the basketball on our end of the floor as much as we can. Giving up 40 and scoring 44, that’s how we have to win.”
Monett seized control early on after a back-and-forth first quarter, which ended with the Cubs on top 11-9. Aaron Patton, the Cubs’ 6’5” post presence, keyed a run in the second quarter with three baskets down low, as Monett led 22-16 at halftime. The Cubs scored baskets just ahead of the buzzer at the end of both the first and second quarters.
Bolivar’s 6’7” center Evan Roberts kept the Liberators in it in the first half by scoring 11 generally uncontested points. He would finish with 21 points to lead Bolivar, while Rash added 13.
Woods, who became Monett’s all-time leading scorer on Jan. 7, was content to be a distributor through three quarters. Woods and Hammond both scored six fourth quarter points to stave off the Bolivar rally. Woods and Patton both scored 13 points for the game to pace Monett.
“I never was comfortable,” said Goetz. “Bolivar’s a good team. They’ve won a lot of games this year, so I knew they were going to go on another run. It was just a matter of us weathering it. We had a lot of young kids on the floor, and being able to handle that type of pressure, with a huge crowd tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
“That was a big win,” said Woods. “They were feeding off the crowd in their home game, so I figured if they get on a run they’re gonna keep going. So I just basically told the guys, ‘we have to stop them now.’ There was actually a defensive possession where they were down by two and I said, ‘hey guys, this is huge. This could be the ball game on this possession.’ Our guys stepped up and made a lot of great defensive plays to win the game.”
Bolivar head coach Robby Hoegh was noticeably disappointed following the game. “We didn’t play very hard,” said Hoegh. “Monett played a good game. Kyle Woods is a heckuva player. All the credit to Monett. I don’t know what we shot from three, but we struggled. We still got the ball inside at times, but just not enough to win the game, and so hopefully, we can get better and move on to the next game.”
That next game will be Tuesday night, as Bolivar returns to Central Ozark Conference Small Division action by playing host to Springfield Catholic. “Hopefully we can bounce back on Tuesday,” said Hoegh. “This was a non-conference game, so it’s important that we come back Tuesday and be ready to play a good Catholic team.”
Monett will host a very good Strafford ball club Tuesday night before returning to Big 8 Conference action against Seneca next Friday night. “That’s the big thing,” said Goetz regarding the significance of the win over Bolivar. “That’s one thing we can’t have. We can’t fall off now. If we can play that style, I think we’ll be okay. We got to continue the upward climb. We can’t have any downward spirals for the rest of the season.”
With District action slated to begin Feb. 25, every team is looking to be playing its best ball of the season coming down the stretch. Monett left Bolivar with a confidence-boosting victory Friday night, while the Liberators will look to rebound and regroup following a disappointing defeat.