Nixa, Mo. (For OzarksSportsZone.com) -- The Eagles jumped out to an early double-digit lead Tuesday and never looked back, winning their season home opener against Class 3 Mt. Vernon 79-59.
Nixa used its size to dominate the Mountaineers in the paint, even as Mt. Vernon played a 2-3 zone for much of the game. Eagles’ head coach Jay Osborne said he thought his team handled the zone defense well as they were able to find ways to score inside – noting that he expects other teams to do much the same against them.
“We’re perfectly fine with that (playing against zone defenses). We’ve got good shooters … we’ve got guys who can step out and shoot,” Osborne said. “We’re going to try to get it inside. That’s going to be our bread and butter this year. We’ll need to get it in there (post) every game, and if we do, we’re going to have success.”
The Eagles will indeed have to rely on their inside game, as their starting senior point guard and one of the area’s top players, Bryce Dulin, suffered a high ankle sprain on Nov. 27 in practice and is out “for a while”, Osborne said, declining to elaborate on a time period.
“It really hurts us. He’s one of the premier players in southwest Missouri,” Osborne said. “But I was proud of our kids; we had some step up (and) filled in nicely. Four of five of those guys have never seen a varsity floor before.”
Nixa jumped out to an 11-0 run to start the game, as their big men – listed at 6’7”, 6’6” and 6’6” – were able to find ways to get open in the paint. With the absence of Dulin, the Eagles were able to step out and get a bucket. The player who did that for them was none other than their 6’7” post, junior Jacob Ruder. He hit a couple clutch treys in the second quarter to put the home team on top 43-32.
In the third quarter, the Eagles continued to score at will, pulling away on a 20-10 run to start the final period up 63-42, even as Mt. Vernon coach Skip Brock switched to man defense to change things. While that didn’t work so much in the third quarter, the Mountainers came out in the fourth quarter with a run of their own.
Mt. Vernon’s defense – switching back and forth from zone to man – caused Nixa’s young front court to make several turnovers, allowing the Mountaineers to pull within eight with 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
But the Eagles went back to what they knew, cutting their big men in the paint and getting easy layups as the undersized Mountaineers struggled to defend.
For Mt. Vernon, it was a tough opener for the team but one to get them ready for the season, said Brock.
“It’s a hard opener, but I was real proud of our guys. … I thought our guys never quit,” he said. “… They’re a strong, physical team. Being Class 3, we don’t play a lot of teams with that physicality, but we hope a game like this will help us down the stretch later on.”
Ruder had a game-high 26 points, followed by senior Wes Middleton with 20. Junior Braden Adams led the Mountaineers with 21, while junior Chandler Myers added 20.
Mt. Vernon (0-1) will have a week to study tape and get ready for their season home opener against Fair Grove Dec. 10. Meanwhile, Nixa (2-0) has a short turnaround, traveling to Fayetteville, Ark., Thursday for a tournament.
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