By John Miller
Springfield, MO – Cinderella, meet the Willard Tigers.
For the second straight night, Willard edged out a seeded opponent, taking down two-seed Bolivar 50-47 in overtime in Tuesday night’s Gold Division quarterfinal of the Blue and Gold Tournament at JQH Arena.
Houston Johnson had 15 points and Kenny Chambers added 12 points and seven rebounds for Willard. Brandon Emmert scored 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds for Bolivar in the loss.
It took some heroics for the Tigers in the name of Sam Bird.
Bolivar held a three-point lead with under a minute to go in regulation and had three consecutive possessions to put the game away but didn’t execute. A turnover and two front-end misses on one-and-one free throw attempts kept Willard alive.
With eight seconds left, the Tigers rebounded a missed free throw, got the ball into the hands of Sam Bird in the right corner. He pump-faked, got the defender in the air, and then buried a game-tying, overtime-forcing 3 over the defense just ahead of the fourth-quarter buzzer.
“My dreams came true, I made the shot,” Bird said. “Kenny (Chambers) gave me a great pass, I caught it, thought I might pump-fake and try to get fouled. Once he jumped, I left it fly.
“I just love being able to make that play for my teammates. That’s the biggest thing for me is playing for them.”
Willard coach Lamont Frazier had confidence his players would execute the late-game situation on their own, opting not to call a timeout to set a play up.
“I trust in our guys enough to know that they’re doing it for the right reasons,” Frazier said. “I can’t say enough about our guys, win, lose, draw. Sam made the shot, he came over, and he said ‘Let’s go!” I think it shows a lot of growth and a lot of maturity.”
In overtime, the Tigers pounded the ball inside to 6-foot-5 big man Houston Johnson. Johnson, who finished with a team-high 15 points, made a pair of layups—the second of which put his team in front for good.
Willard held a 48-46 lead and fouled Bolivar point guard Conley Garrison with 51 seconds remaining in overtime, sending Garrison to the free throw line for two attempts. But the senior guard only made one of two, keeping Willard ahead. After Willard’s Chambers missed the front-end of the one-and-one, Bolivar got the ball back with eight seconds left. But Emmert’s driving layup was off the mark, and Willard’s Elijah Davis got the rebound and was fouled with 1.7 seconds remaining. Davis made both free throws, his only points of the night, securing the win for the Tigers.
“Our guys believe in themselves,” Frazier said. “They’ve learned how to play. They’ve learned how to trust one another, and consequently, they’re having fun. I see a group of guys that are having fun and I hope they continue to have fun.”
The game was tight throughout on Tuesday, with neither team gaining a lead of more than four points. There were 16 different lead changes and 15 ties.
Willard will now face the winner of Mountain Grove and Rogersville in the Gold Division semifinals on Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. in JQH Arena
Bolivar 11 11 14 8 3 47
Willard 11 9 16 8 6 50
Bolivar: Emmert 24, Garrison 10, Jones 8, Pitts 5
Willard: Johnson 15, Chambers 12, Bird 9, Jackson 7, Batson 3, Davis 2, Fickbohm 2