By Jeff Kessinger (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Rogersville’s Zach Bergmann scored back-to-back buckets late in the first half Wednesday night, pushing his Wildcats in front of Republic at the 75th Annual Blue & Gold Tournament at JQH Arena. That seemed significant at the time.
But they were the last two field goals by Rogersville for a long time. Republic, the second seed in the Gold Division, held No. 3 Rogersville without a basket for the next 12 minutes to help them pull away for a 53-36 win.
“That’s something we’ve prided our program on for a long time now,” Republic coach Tim Brown said of his defense. “We feel like we’re a pretty good defensive team when we’ve got guys locked in and doing things and I thought our guys were great at that tonight. Our assignments, our help and I thought we rebounded well. Our guys grind and do what they have to find a way to win.”
Republic outscored Rogersville 17-3 during that defensive display to build an insurmountable lead. The Tigers scored only four field goals of their own in that span, but went 10-for-13 from the foul line as they did whatever it took to earn the win.
“We’re just a big group of friends,” Republic’s Drew McMillin said. “We like playing together, we enjoy winning together and I think that really pushes us. That gives us our motor. That’s how we play.”
Drew McMillin had eight of Republic’s points in the decisive run. That included a conventional 3-point play to stretch the lead to 28-22. The Tigers led 38-26 before Kannon Gipson drove the lane and scored to end the drought. Bergmann followed with a bucket of his own to cut the deficit to eight with less than 4 minutes to play.
And that’s right in the middle of Winning Time for the Tigers. One night after holding on for dear life to beat Crane, 45-44, Republic was dedicated to putting their semifinal game away.
“Something we pride ourselves on is playing good in Winning Time,” Brown said. “We call the last 4 or 5 minutes of the game Winning Time and no matter what you’ve done prior to that point doesn’t matter. We weren’t very good in Winning Time yesterday and I think that was a wake-up call for our guys. They were disappointed. We’ve seen lots of teams fall apart at the end of games and not be able to win. It says a lot about our guys that they were able to fall apart and still get a stop to win the game.”
Republic scored on its last seven possessions to seal the win and forced a pair of Rogersville turnovers. The Wildcats managed just one basket, a Gipson 3-pointer, the rest of the night.
McMillin finished with 22 points to pace Republic, scoring 11 of them at the free throw line. He added a 3-pointer to his scoring line, in a typical performance for the senior guard. Senior Tyson Young came off the bench to add 10 as six different Tigers scored.
“Drew stepped up today,” Brown said. “I think he would tell you he didn’t play like Drew McMillin yesterday and I did a poor job as a coach putting him in positions to be successful. But he was typical Drew today and our team was typical Republic.”
Rogersville was led by Gipson’s game-high 24. Only two other Wildcats added points, Bergmann with 7 and Max Goff with 5.
“Our goal was to try to make it tough on Kannon,” Brown said. “We let him get off to a really good start and that wasn’t part of the game plan. He didn’t cooperate very well and he had a great game. But I thought we did a good job on everyone else and we tried to force (Gipson) into some tough shots and we were able to get some rebounds.”
Now it’s on to the Gold Division finals for Republic. The Tigers haven’t won a championship since 2016. They were Gold Division runners-up in 2017. To get the big trophy they’ll have to upset top seed Greenwood and Georgetown-bound senior Aminu Mohammed.
“We’re excited. We wanted to get here,” Brown said. ”We pride ourselves on the defensive end and gameplanning, and we get a chance to do that tomorrow night against a really good team.”
Rogersville 8 14 3 11 – 36
Republic 15 8 10 20 – 53
Rogersville – Kannon Gipson 24, Zach Bergmann 7, Max Goff 5
Republic – Drew McMillin 22, Tyson Young 10, Devon McMillin 8, Ahlante Askew 5, Carson Neff 4, Oliver Welch 4