By Rod Shetler
Special to The Globe
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. —
Entering Tuesday’s Class 5 District 12 semifinal, Joplin Eagles coach Jeff Williams had concerns about how his team would handle the defensive pressure of the second-seeded Willard Tigers.
It turned out the concerns were legitimate.
The third-seeded Eagles committed 14 first-half turnovers and fell behind 35-22 at halftime before eventually seeing their season end 73-47 in the Parkview High School gymnasium.
“The turnovers are what divided our score,” Williams said. “That, and I don’t think we rebounded real well. And when you play defense and give them a lot of second shots as well, that hurts. They’ve got a couple of pretty good players, and their pressure got to us at times. It has throughout the year. The fundamentals of ballhandling is something we will work on during the offseason.”
The Eagles (15-10) started strong as they trailed just 18-16 following a 3-pointer from Daniel Stokes with 5:28 left before halftime. That’s when the Willard defensive pressure stepped up and turned Joplin turnovers into points.
Over the next three minutes Willard’s pressure forced six Joplin turnovers, which helped fuel a 13-2 Willard scoring run. A pair of free throws from Willard’s Chris Kendrix with 2:19 left before the break made the score 31-18 Tigers, and they never looked back.
“That’s the tempo of the game we want,” said Willard coach Lamont Frazier. “It speeds our opponent up, and it speeds us up. We’re never out of a game, and we’re never too far ahead with the way we play. It’s a situation where we try to get our best players in the best position to make plays.”
The Eagles quickly saw Willard grow its lead to more than 20 in the second half, and could never put together a run of their own.
“Once the deficit got to 20 it was going to be hard to come back from,” said Williams. “I’m proud of our guys. We’ve had a good year, and have nothing to be ashamed of. I think 15 wins from this group was a good season, and I’m particularly proud of our seniors.”
Kendrix led Willard with 20 points and was 11-for-13 at the free-throw line. Teammate Kolbe Kinghorn chipped in 19 points with a big 15-point second half.
Joplin junior Charlie Brown led all scorers with 22 points, and senior teammate Abe Hueller grabbed 10 rebounds.
Willard (17-8) faces the top-seeded Parkview Vikings, a 73-39 victor over Springfield Central, in the district championship game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.