Brett Krisik knew he was about out of leash. He’d committed a pair of turnovers - boneheaded plays his coach, Steve Hunter, called them - and the Nixa Eagles were furiously closing in. He had to do something, and he had to do something right.
So when the ball found him on the left wing, with space, the Ozark senior cast off from 3-point range. Release. Rotation. Splash. It was the first of a pair of triples that helped the Tigers hang on a for a thrilling, come-from-behind 74-68 Central Ozark Conference win over their archrival Tuesday night.
“The first one didn’t feel good. I didn’t know I was going to make it, so I was relieved,” said Krisik. “That would’ve been four mistakes in a row and I would’ve been pulled out. The second one felt good.”
The buckets - wrapped around a trey by Nixa sharpshooter Austin Ruder - helped stem an 8-0 Eagles run and put Ozark up 64-60 with 1:53 to play. The Tigers got a stop on their next possession and nailed their free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Ozark was 10-for-12 at the stripe in the game’s final 90 seconds.
“I was about ready to choke Krisik,” Hunter quipped. “Two plays before he made the 3, he let his man get loose and get a layup, then he missed a shot on the other end. Players make plays. I talked to him about this after the Parkview game earlier in the year. Guys that want the ball in their hands and are willing to shoot the ball when the game’s on the line and take responsibility for the outcome, those are the guys that you want to have on the team.”
Krisik led four Tigers in double figures with 21 points, as Ozark improved to 13-10 overall, 3-2 in COC play. Tyler Clanton and Jakob Neidig finished with 15 each, while Korbin Evans chipped in 13. The win is the first for Ozark’s senior class over Nixa.
Ruder led all scorers with 24 points, 13 of them in the fourth quarter as he tried to lead his team back. Bryce Dulin had 16 and Chris Bettis finished with 11. Nixa, No. 7 in Class 5, is now 18-5, 3-2.
“You’ve got to give (Nixa coach) Jay (Osborne) a lot of credit,” said Hunter, who pointed out the Eagles are missing sophomore forward Jacob Ruder and senior guard Jalen Norman. “He did a nice job keeping his kids in the game and giving them a chance to win. They’re still a load, even without those players.”
That was evident from the start, as the Eagles raced out to a 15-2 lead midway through the first quarter. But four points from Clanton broke the run, and Krisik, Noah Nelson and Neidig all scored in a 10-0 run to get Ozark back into the game.
“We were a little timid off the bat,” said Hunter. “I about used all of my timeouts in the first half, just trying to keep it close. The guys just needed a little bit of a ‘This is going to be alright’ type thing.’”
“We tried to keep chipping away, keep pushing,” said Krisik. “As a team we didn’t want to give up because we’re on our home floor and we don’t want to get stomped out by Nixa. Especially with them missing two of their best players. That would’ve been embarrassing.”
Krisik scored five straight points to give Ozark its first lead of the game midway through the second quarter, as the Tigers took advantage of 10 first-half turnovers by Nixa. The teams traded the lead six times before a 14-1 run late in the third quarter put Ozark in front for good.
“We pressed a little bit, and some of their guys who aren’t used to having the ball in their hands had it in their hands,” said Hunter. “We tried to keep a little bit of pressure and they slung it around a little bit. It looked like a snowball fight there for a little while between Ozark and Nixa, because we chunked it around a little bit ourselves. It was not a pretty thing. Jay said at halftime, ‘This is ugly,’ and I tend to agree with him.”