By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
There were no real key moments or big shots on Tuesday night as the Nixa basketball team completed an undefeated run through the Central Ozark Conference. It’s the school’s second outright championship in a row.
The outcome was never in doubt – not with the COC’s only unbeaten team taking on the only winless one. And if the Eagles did anything to celebrate their 74-25 road win at Carl Junction, they did so on the court with a flurry of three pointers and some emphatic dunks.
“CJ’s had a difficult year so the outcome wasn’t surprising,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “I thought our kids were focused on a Tuesday night, long trip, it’s cold outside. It’s sometimes hard to get emotionally ready for that but they did a good job. They were ready to go. I thought we shared the ball. Now we move on to something else. We’ve got districts coming up on Monday and got a lot of prep to do. We’ve got some important games coming up.”
It was a businesslike approach for Nixa, which finished the regular season 23-3 (9-0) and earned the school’s ninth COC championship in the process. Osborne, in his 30th year at the helm, said the team didn’t even talk of another conference championship until late January or early February.
“It’s two years in a row we’ve gone undefeated in this conference and that’s an accomplishment in itself,” he said. “It feels good but we’ve got bigger ambitions. It’s nice to get a conference title but we’re searching for a district title. That actually starts tomorrow so we’re getting prepped for that.”
Nixa opens district play on Monday as the top seed in Class 6 District 5 and will face Lebanon at Joplin High School.
The Eagles enter postseason play having won seven in a row and 13 of their last 14. They were especially dominant in conference play, winning all nine games by an average of 28 points. Only Webb City played them as close as 10.
It was more of the same on Tuesday, with senior Jaret Nelson throwing down a dunk in the first quarter and then senior Colin Ruffin throwing up an alley-oop for junior Kael Combs. That gave Nixa a double-digit lead over Carl Junction (4-21, 0-9) about six-and-a-half minutes in.
Senior Jordyn Turner made four three-point shots in the second quarter, and a Combs dunk and four more three’s by Ruffin helped Nixa to a 58-22 lead after three quarters and a running clock to close it out.
Ten different Eagles scored in the game, with Ruffin leading with 17, Turner adding 14, Combs scoring 12 and Nelson finishing with 10. Nixa made 13 three-point shots and only attempted four free throws.
“As you can see tonight we’ve got some shooters,” Osborne said. “We were making shots, we were making extra passes to get open shots and we’ve got some bigs inside that are doing a good job and getting touches, getting their hands on a lot of passes. When you can score inside and out it makes it hard to guard. We’re unselfish. We’re finding open people in the right spots. I hope that continues.”
“Great coaching and honestly great talent,” Turner said. “Our team is very talented and so is our coaching.”
Turner, too, emphasized that the focus is now on next week.
“Like every team we’re shooting for the state championship,” he said. “We just move on from getting the COC championship then trying to get the district championship and move on from there.”
“Most coaches are like this, you feel good about the win but then you’re automatically thinking about the next game,” Osborne said. “Right now I’ve got my mind set on Monday’s game. And maybe this is a fault but it’s hard to enjoy victories when you’ve got another big game coming up. It’s always the next game. It’s probably a big fault of mine, a fault of our coaching staff, but we just don’t spend a whole lot of time celebrating. We spend time looking forward to the next one. We win a district title, we’ll do some celebrating.”