By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In a blistering second quarter that saw Zach Howell make four three pointers and the Irish pour in 24 points, the Springfield Catholic basketball team took control of Tuesday’s Big 8 crossover championship at McDonald County.
Catholic, tops in the Big 8 East, outscored the Mustangs by 15 points in the period and used the cushion to cruise to a 72-57 victory to cement its status atop the conference – and earn the school’s 20th win in the process.
“I thought we played well in spurts,” Catholic coach Jack Simpson said. “Credit them, they made some shots and there were a couple times we just didn’t get back and left them wide open layups but that’s what they do and they’re good at it. And that’s a talented team that come districts I don’t know if you really want to play them the way they shoot the ball. I think they did more good things than we necessarily did bad. We had some mental breakdowns there but overall not a bad effort and we’ll take it.”
The teams were tied at 14 entering the second, but the Irish opened with a 12-2 run to take a double-digit lead. Howell had five points in the span and Ty Lyon added a three-point play. Later, Howell connected on three three-point shots in barely a minute to push the lead to 15 and Catholic took a 38-23 lead into the half.
“Our guys have been going on runs like that all year,” Simpson said. “That’s why I tell them basketball is a game of runs. For us it’s about putting together multiple stops in a row and I thought we did that in the second quarter. And when you’ve got a guy like Zach Howell you’re capable of scoring every possession.”
Catholic (20-6, 6-0) led by 18 after a basket and free throw by Howell to open the third, but McDonald County wasn’t out of the game yet. The Mustangs cut the lead to 10 over the next five minutes and then pulled within 48-41 at the 1:15 mark after a 3 by Cole Martin.
McDonald County (12-12, 5-1) had a chance to pull closer with a 1-and-1 opportunity but missed the first shot, and two free throws by Major Riley and a field goal by Howell helped end the run.
Catholic made 7-of-8 free throws in the fourth quarter – and 12-of-14 in the second half – to seal it.
“We expected them to make a push,” Simpson said. “That’s one of those things where we were up 15 at halftime and we just let our foot off the gas and you can’t do that when you play good, talented teams like McDonald County is and we should have kept our foot on the gas. Credit them, they made some shots, they made some plays and they cut away at the lead.”
For McDonald County, Tuesday was an improvement on last year’s 40-point loss on the road at Catholic.
“They’re a tough team and they can shoot the ball,” Mustangs coach Brandon Joines said. “They missed a lot of shots in the first quarter and really we did too. Everybody’s trying to get a feel for each other. We don’t play each other regularly but we did play them last year and last year we did not show up well so tonight was all about that and I told the guys this last night even after we played East Newton, I said we need to be competitive. It’s about pride and respect and we don’t let them come into our home floor and do what they did last year and try to embarrass us. I thought we competed hard.”
Howell led all scorers with 41 points and had 22 in the second half while making 9-of-10 free throws. Joines said the senior was everything he’s described as.
“I felt like we forced him into some tough catches, tough finishes and he was up to the task,” he said. “He’s catching along the baseline behind the backboard and finishing comfortably. There’s only so much we can do with that. I feel like we forced it and he just started hitting it. Once he got comfortable he rolled. Heck of a player.”
“I am proud of the effort because in the end we didn’t shut down, we kept going,” Joines said. “We kept running the floor and trying to get something going all the way until a minute and a half when I pulled everybody.”
Riley added 10 points for Catholic and Quinn Roubal scored eight. McDonald County’s Sterling Woods scored 17 and Cross Dowd and Cole Martin each had 11.