By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NEOSHO — Braeden Testerman and his Joplin teammates made the kind of history on Friday that their program hadn’t enjoyed since coach Jeff Hafer’s own playing days.
Joplin won its first District championship in 24 years by knocking off Nixa 48-42 in the Class 5 District 12 championship game.
Hater was a sophomore center on Joplin’s last District championship team in 1994.
“We hadn’t even played in a district championship game in 10 years,” said Testerman, a senior guard and three-year starter. “We had won six games the past two years. Now, I feel Joplin is cementing itself in Missouri basketball history and I hope we can go further in the history books.
“Our name just got a little bigger tonight.
“These seniors went through two years in which we won only three games each year,” said Hafer, a former Mizzou player who took over the head coaching duties at his alma mater in 2014. “For their senior year to culminate with an opportunity to keep playing in the state tournament is outstanding and a testament to what they’ve done for our program.”
Testerman did his usual thing at the defensive end while helping hold Nixa to no more than 12 points in any quarter. He also provided a much-welcomed boost offensively by netting three 3-pointers in the second half as part of his 11-point effort.
On a night in which points were at a premium on both sides, a trio of timely 3s loomed large.
“Braeden starts everything for us because he generally is at the head of our defense,” Hafer said. “It was outstanding to see him put the ball in the basket because he plays so unselfishly. He’s always willing to do what we need him to do to win. Tonight it was to make open shots.
“When he’s open, he’s a very good shooter. Tonight, he found those opportunities. As a senior, we have faith in him to capitalize on those opportunities and he really did.”
“I’ve been working on my offensive game since last year, when I didn’t play very well,” Testerman said. “I was in the gym all summer working on my shot. I’ve always been a shooter, but not a great spot-up shooter. I would look to attack and be aggressive in the paint.
“I want to be an all-around good player. Defense, offense, ball-handling — anything I can do to help my team win I’ll do.”
Joplin (18-9) jumped out to a 5-0 lead and trailed only once all night.
Joplin’s interior defense stood out, with Nixa being forced to settle for one and done offensively much more often than not.
“We’re not a very good rebounding team and it caught up with us tonight,” Osborne said. “It ended our season. We got them taking some shots and missing some shots, but we couldn’t get the rebound.”
“We’re never bigger than anybody we play,” Hafer said. “These guys have to fight, scratch and claw against everybody. We try to make sure we have good ball pressure to try to make it hard for the offense to make the entry pass and we always want to help and swarm to the basketball if it gets to the paint.”
Evan Guillory’s breakout sophomore season for Joplin saw him conclude the regular season with a 27-point game against Springfield Hillcrest last week. He didn’t have a big output versus Nixa, but contributed five free throws in the fourth quarter.
“Evan has grown as a player,” Hafer said. “He got a lot of good looks tonight in the paint that normally he drops in. They weren’t going for him. But what I was glad to see is he kept going to the glass. When he does that, he’s going to go to the free-throw line and he’s a good free-throw shooter.”
Austin Higdon hit a couple layups late for the winners to cap his 14-point night.
Osborne wasn’t happy with his team’s offense, but was pleased Nixa controlled the tempo.
“We wanted to slow them down,” he said. “They attack the rim so well and get out in transition so well. We wanted a half-court game. That’s what we got.
“Joplin is aggressive and plays hard. I like how they play. We handled their aggressiveness for the most part. But you score 42 points in a game like this … you’ve got to get in the 50s.”
Nixa (19-9) had its streak of nine straight 20-win seasons stopped and its streak of district championship seasons halted at four.
“Good things always come to an end,” Osborne said. “Our expectations at Nixa are very high and when we don’t meet those expectations, it’s very disappointing. We had some kids have decent seasons. But it’s never good enough, it seems like.
“In a few weeks, we’ll calm down and relax and probably feel pretty good about 19 wins.”
Joplin 11 10 13 14 — 48
Nixa 9 10 11 12 — 42
JOPLIN (48) — G. Guillory 5, E. Guillory 8, Testerman 11, Higdon 14, Westmoreland 10.
NIXA (42) — Elmer 6, Canady 4, Combs 13, Wofford 3, Sanders 4, Bilbrey 10, Roeman 2.