By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
JOPLIN — In a game where the lead and the momentum seesawed virtually all night, it was the Joplin Eagles who came through with the final scoring run to secure a 64-60 win Tuesday night over former Ozark Conference rival Kickapoo at Kaminsky Gymnasium.
Just a minute after Joplin took a 57-54 lead on a Dakarai Allen steal-and-score, Kickapoo senior Micah McIntire put the Chiefs back ahead 58-57 with a pair of free throws.
Over the next 54.2 seconds, Joplin regained a 61-58 lead with an Isaiah Davis basket and a subsequent steal-and-score by Allen.
The Eagles made three free throws, highlighted by a pair by Tommy Hafer that closed out the scoring with 10 seconds remaining, and the Chiefs only mustered a basket by junior point guard Anton Brookshire in the final minute.
Allen led Joplin with 17 points, Zach Westmoreland hit for 16, Hafer added 10, Davis and Always Wright each had nine, and Blake Tash’s only three points came on a 3-point shot to beat the first quarter buzzer and give the Eagles their first lead of the night.
Brookshire scored a game-high 20 points, Cameron Liggins netted 13 of his 15 points in the first half, McIntire split his 13 points almost evenly between halves, Cary Ragan scored all six of his points after halftime, and Elijah Bridgers rounded out Kickapoo’s offensive production with six points. The Chiefs received no bench points.
Kickapoo nearly overcame going scoreless for the first 4:17 of the second half, as the Chiefs’ 33-31 halftime lead turned into a 40-33 third quarter deficit. Westmoreland’s steal-and-slam to start the second half set the tone for what went right for the Eagles and what went wrong for the Chiefs the rest of the night.
“We knew going into the game they’re really good and they’re really physical,” Kickapoo head coach Mitch McHenry said. “They’ve got really good athletes. I felt like we played pretty good offensively in the first half. I felt like what we needed to do defensively, stop them in transition and make them score in the halfcourt and not give them second-chance points, we did a poor job in the first half.
“In the second half, I thought we did a little better defensively and our offense wasn’t as good. We could never get them both going at the same time with our offense and defense on the same page. We know they’re a top team in the area and I expected a little more fight from our kids. I just didn’t see a whole lot of fight. Our body language wasn’t good, I didn’t think we had dudes that were bringing guys together wanting to get it done as an unit as five guys on the floor. You’ve got to want to win the game. We had our chances. They made plays, we didn’t, and they earned the win.”
Joplin improved to 13-4 overall and the Eagles ran their winning streak to five straight. Three of those wins came by four points or less: Webb City 83-79, Parkview 66-63, and Kickapoo 64-60. That’s a good sign moving forward for the Eagles.
Joplin returns to action next Tuesday on the road against Central Ozark Conference and Class 5, District 12 rival Carthage.
Kickapoo, meanwhile, dropped to 9-7 overall and the Chiefs return to action Saturday with a tilt against Raytown South, a team ranked No. 2 in Class 4 in the most recent Missouri Basketball Coaches Association poll. The Chiefs are No. 10 in Class 5. The Raytown South contest is slated to be played at 7 p.m. at Notre Dame de Sion High School in Kansas City, Mo.
Joplin 64, Kickapoo 60
Kickapoo 19 14 12 15 — 60
Joplin 20 11 15 18 — 64
KICKAPOO (9-7) — Anton Brookshire 20, Cameron Liggins 15, Micah McIntire 13, Cary Ragan 6, Elijah Bridgers 6.
JOPLIN (13-4) — Dakarai Allen 17, Zach Westmoreland 16, Tommy Hafer 10, Isaiah Davis 9, Always Wright 9, Blake Tash 3.