Quinn Nelson had his first career dunk, a first half he’ll never forget, and a sweet, sweet victory over arch-rival Nixa.
Come Thursday, Nelson and his Ozark Tiger teammates want to prove the doubters wrong (again) and get a little greedy.
Nelson torched Nixa for 21 first-half points – finishing with four treys and 25 points for the game – as Ozark built an early lead on held to it through the second half, prevailing 59-47 over the Eagles in the Gold Division semifinals.
It marked the first loss of the season for Nixa (8-1 overall).
Ozark (8-3 overall) plays Willard at 8:30 Thursday night in the Gold championship game.
Nelson was a freshman two years ago when Ozark won a Gold Division championship, then a varsity reserve last season when Ozark was blown out by Kickapoo in the Blue Division finals.
“We’re always confident,” Nelson said. “We’re not going to take any team lightly, but we’re not going to be afraid of anyone either. We went in with the attitude of, ‘No one thinks we can win this game but us.’ We executed our gameplan perfectly and it worked out for us well.
“I just want to get that trophy. I know we have some coaches that want this trophy as well, and every player does. It means a ton.”
Nelson was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half, accounting for 21 of Ozark’s 31 points to outscore Nixa by himself and give the Tigers a 12-point lead (31-19 ) at halftime.
“He really showed what he’s capable of doing,” said Ozark coach Mark Schweitzer. “He got loose and got some 3s up, they went in.”
Ozark spent the entire second half trying to scramble out of the 12-point halftime deficit.
Nixa coach Jay Osborne said Ozark went to a different strategy in the second half to maintain its lead.
“Their best player had 21 (points) at halftime and we didn’t know who our best player was,” Osborne said. “Highly disappointed. I’ll give credit to Ozark, especially in the first half. I thought, second half, they… just spread it and milked clock. First half, their best player stepped up and had a big performance.
“I thought we did a better job guarding him in the second half, but again, (Ozark) wasn’t looking to shoot 3s. They were in defensive mode. They did a good job of playing keep-away and we’re not a chase-you team. We’re not going to get out and chase you and take it away.”
Ozark withstood multiple Nixa runs in the second half.
The Eagles closed to within 36-31 late in the third quarter on a Nathan Elmer 3-pointer. In the fourth quarter, a basket from Seth Viebrock cut Ozark’s lead to 49-45.
That’s as close as Nixa would get. Ozark scored eight of the game’s next 10 points.
It was a rough night for Nixa’s guards, as the Eagles went 2-for-20 on 3-point attempts.
“Our best players have to step up in big games,” Osborne said. “We’re shooting 40 percent from 3 and went 2-for-20 from tonight. You shot 10 percent from 3 and you’re wide open… We can run any kind of offense we want, but if we don’t make shoots, it makes it hard on the defense.”
Nelson was the only Ozark player in double figures. Payton Nichols scored eight and Carter Burgess added seven points.
“It was a full team effort,” Nelson said. “They got me open. They set solid screens on (Nixa’s) players. Whenever I felt that I had enough room to shoot it, I just let it fly.”
Ozark was able to overcome an in-game injury to point guard Will Pickering.
“We weren’t rushed,” Schweitzer said. “If you watched our game against Fair Grove, we were trying to make one pass and then zing an entry (pass) in for a layup. We didn’t do that tonight. We passed it around, made easy and smart passes. When the defense gave it to us, we took it.”
Nixa plays Rogersville at 5:30 p.m. in the Gold Division 3rd place game.
“We haven’t shot it well the last couple of weeks,” Osborne said. “First six games, we were lighting it up, making shots, playing loose, had some swagger to us. We come over here, and the three games we’ve had here, we haven’t had any swagger. I don’t what’s happened. The chemistry of our team has changed.”
Osborne needs one more win to become the all-time winningest coach in the history of the Blue and Gold Tournament.
Osborne and former Ozark coach Steve Hunter are both tied for the most wins by a coach in the Blue and Gold with 64.
Ozark 14 17 10 18 — 59
Nixa 12 7 15 13 — 47
Ozark – Quinn Nelson 25, Payton Nichols 8, Carter Burgess 7, Parker Hanks 4, Brian Wacha 4, Will Pickering 4, Noah Suiter 3, Garrett Reinke 2, Cameron Richardson 2
Nixa – Braeden Combs 17, Austin Bracker 8, Nathan Elmer 7, Christian Bundy 4, Evan Bergmann 3, Drew Canady 2