The Nixa Eagles defeated the Willard Tigers in front of a packed house on Senior Night, 63-59. The host Eagles trailed early in the first quarter and when Willard senior Kolbe Kinghorn made a 3 at the end of the first quarter to give Willard a 20-13 lead, Nixa knew they needed to rally to get back into the game.
MSU signee Austin Ruder, who with 28 was the leading scorer of the game, said “I was not about to disappoint our fans on Senior Night. I knew we were in for a battle with Willard.”
Nixa’s rally began in the second quarter, led by a well-balanced scoring attack and an increase in their defensive pressure.
“I knew we had to pick it up on defense and I think we held them to eight points in the second quarter. That’s what got us back in the game,” said Ruder. Nixa would take the one point lead at halftime, 29-28.
The second half would start with Nixa jumping out to a six-point lead, 36-30, but Willard would not go away and would quickly tie the score at 36. The two teams would continue to swap leads in the third quarter.
A key moment came with 1:17 left to go in the quarter when Willard’s junior Chris Kendrix picked up his fourth personal foul. This would cause Willard to let up a little on defense and allow Nixa to attack the bucket.
Nixa sophomore Jacob Ruder, who had missed the previous three games with an injury, took advantage of the Willard foul trouble and was aggressive underneath the bucket.
“Willard plays a harassing defense and they swarm you,” said Nixa head coach Jay Osborne. “Any time they have their two best players get in foul trouble we need to take advantage of it. I thought we did that. They had to play a little bit less aggressive than normal.”
The Tigers would not quit, and at the end of three, Kendrix would score with 6 seconds left to give Willard the lead, 45-44.
In the fourth quarter there would be six different times that the lead would either be tied or would change. At the 3:10 mark, Willard’s junior Zakorey Barr would tie the game at 55-55, but Jacob Ruder would answer right back and give Nixa a two-point lead. Kinghorn would answer Ruder with two of his own, to tie the game, and that would be the last bucket of the game. The rest of the game would be decided at the free throw line.
The pivotal moment in the game came at the 1:51 mark when Willard’s Kendrix was called for an offensive foul, which was also his fifth personal foul. The Eagles would then convert their next four free throws to give them a 61-57 lead. Willard’s Barr would knock down two free throws of his own with 1:00 left to go to bring it to 61-59. Nixa would make their first free throw at :51.7, but then would miss their next eight free throws in a row. Willard was unable to capitalize on the Eagles’ missed free throws. Jacob Ruder would score his last free throw with less than a second on the clock to seal the game for the Eagles, 63-59.
“It was two heavyweight teams going at it, a typical COC matchup. Their crowd was crazy, it was a great game all around,” said Willard head coach Lamont Frazier. “It came down to making plays. We make a few buckets here and there and it’s a different ball game.”
“It was just a good game. Both teams played really hard. I can’t take anything away from Willard, they have come a long way,” said Osborne. “It’s good to come out with a win and I hope our fans enjoyed it.”
Willard 20 8 17 14 -59
Nixa 13 16 15 19 -63
Willard—Kolbe Kinghorn-21, Chris Kendrix-17, Zakorey Barr-10, Landon Anderson-8, Montana Craig-3
Nixa—Austin Ruder-28, Bryce Dulin-13, Jacob Ruder-12, Wes Middleton-4, Chan Hocklander-4, Carney Wilmes-2