By Matt Turer / Matt Turer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
REPUBLIC, Mo. – It took a frantic finish, but the Republic Tigers are one step away from their first district title since making the jump from Class 4 five season ago.
Broc Smith scored 15 points, Trent Rackley added 14, Race Looney contributed 12 and the Tigers defense fought off a furious Joplin run in the game’s final two minutes to advance to Friday’s Class 5 District 12 title with a 51-48 win over the Eagles on Tuesday.
“Our guys did a great job defensively,” Republic head coach Tim Brown said. “We get our swagger from the defensive end and they brought it tonight.”
Top-seeded Republic (21-6) led 47-39 with 2:20 to play following a pair of Smith free throws, but the 4-seed Eagles (14-13) answered with an 8-2 run over the next 1:35.
After a foul and two more made free throws, Joplin trailed 51-48 with 22 seconds remaining. The Eagles managed two good looks from three to tie but missed both, with the second coming at the buzzer.
“There were a few possessions where their athleticism bothered us and they were able to turn it over,” Brown said. “That was very costly because they did a nice job of capitalizing.”
Smith was an Eagle killer late in the second half. With Joplin trailing by just five late in the third quarter, Smith hit a corner three in front of the Republic student section with five seconds left, pushing the lead to 40-32 through three.
After an early Eagles 3-pointer in the fourth quarter cut the deficit to 41-35, Smith answered again with a bucket and one that put Republic up nine with 4:35 left. Two minutes later, he did it again. This time turned a 44-39 score into 47-39 with a bucket and a foul.
“We like to grind it out and play that way, and not a lot of teams do, but that’s the history of program,” Brown said. “It’s kind of the way we’ve always played. We just say to not worry about the outcome and enjoy the process and stay in the moment.”
Evan Guillory led Joplin with 17 points followed by 12 from Isaiah Davis. Joplin entered the half with the score tied 22-22, but the Tigers outscored the Eagles 18-10 in the third quarter to help pull away.
“I was really proud of our kids tonight,” Joplin head coach Jeff Hafer said. “We played through Evan. Played through Isaiah on the post. It just came down to making shots or not. Simple plays matter, and [Republic] had a number of key plays that turned out to be big.”
Republic faces 2-seed Willard (17-9) in Friday’s district championship. Tip is set for 7:45 pm.
JHS |10|12|10|16| — |48|
RHS |11|11|18|11| — |51|
Joplin- Evan Guillory 17, Isaiah Davis 12, Tommy Hafer 9, Always Wright 5, Blake Tash 3
Republic- Broc Smith 15, Trent Rackley 14, Race Looney 12, Drew McMillin 6, Tucker Thomas 4