By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
JOPLIN, Mo. – For all of the fourth quarter and a chunk of the third, no more than two points separated the Joplin and Webb City basketball teams.
But the Eagles scored eight-unanswered points in overtime and went on to beat the Cardinals 83-79 in the Central Ozark Conference opener for both teams.
“When you’re in a four minute game and you jump out 8-0 real quick, everybody feels that pressure,” said Joplin coach Jeff Hafer.
Joplin, 9-6, couldn’t have asked for a better start to the overtime period.
Joplin won the tip. Sophomore Always Wright drained a three pointer. Senior Dakarai Allen came up with a steal. Senior Zach Westmoreland scored a two and then Webb City turned it over again. After a quick timeout, Wright connected on another three pointer.
With 2:55 left the Eagles suddenly led 79-71.
Webb City coach Jason Horn said his team could have folded then and there.
“I think we got caught up in the moment a little bit,” he said. “They had a big three, we turned the ball over, probably got caught up a little bit but our kids settled back down and we were able to execute.”
Webb City, 3-6, didn’t go down without a fight. Senior Tanner Rogers made a three pointer with two minutes left to cut it to 5, but Joplin senior Andreis Gaines answered with a bucket to make it 81-74.
Webb City senior Terrell Kabala answered with another three pointer to make it a four-point game with 1:10 remaining. After a steal by Rogers, junior Nickhai Howard scored and Webb City was within two points with 24 seconds on the clock.
Out of a timeout with 13 seconds remaining, Hafer and the Eagles liked how Webb City was guarding. Senior Isaiah Davis caught the inbounds pass and dished to senior Zach Westmoreland, who stormed into the paint for a two-handed dunk and the final points of the game.
“We were a little sluggish coming out at halftime and to start most quarters,” Hafer said. “Boy, in overtime they answered the bell.”
“I think they’re as good as anybody in our conference,” Horn said. “A couple possessions here or there go another way and it might be a different game. They showed a lot of resolve, played through some situations and I think our kids showed a lot of resolve and a lot of heart. We didn’t quit, we kept battling back. We could change a few things and there’s things we can work on in practice. We’ll get better from this.”
For most of the first three quarters it was a game of runs, though neither team pulled away.
Joplin led 19-9 after senior Tommy Hafer grabbed a rebound and scored, but Webb City finished the first quarter on a 10-2 run and trailed 21-19.
The Cardinals then started the second quarter with a 12-4 run to lead 31-25 with 4:04 remaining after sophomore Cohl Vaden converted a three-point play.
Later Webb City led 36-30 when Joplin closed the quarter with an 11-2 run to lead 41-38 at halftime.
After back-to-back three pointers by Kabala and junior Mekhi Garrard, the Cardinals had their biggest lead of the game, 50-43, with 5:25 left in the third.
The Eagles still trailed by five minutes later before Allen took over the game for a stretch, scoring on a put-back, throwing down a one-handed slam and then adding a three pointer on three-straight possessions.
The scoring outburst gave Joplin a 54-52 lead and it was a neck-and-neck game the rest of regulation.
“Both teams’ guards played at a high level offensively,” Hafer said. “Defensively that’s a hard game to play in because it’s man on man and you’ve got to stop a drive and you’ve got to be able to help on a rotation. We gave them a lot of easy ones, a lot of easy ones after we’d come down and get a little bit of a lead and then immediately give one up.”
“There’s a couple times I thought we had opportunities to stretch it a little bit and they kept battling back,” Horn said. “They had guys who made plays. When you get in a big game like this your athletes are going to do that. Both teams have really good players and I think that showed tonight.”
The teams combined to have seven players score in double figures.
Joplin was led by Allen’s 22 points and also received 18 from Davis, 17 from Wright and 16 from Westmoreland.
Webb City’s Kabala scored 23, Howard scored 20 and Vaden added 16.