The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

January 10, 2014

Strong first half keys Statesman

— Webster Groves’ defense built an early lead, and the Statesmen withstood Neosho’s second-half comeback in a 71-53 victory Thursday in the first game of the Kaminsky Classic at Young Gymnasium.

Alex Floresca, a 6-foot-7 junior, led Webster Groves with 20 points but was limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble in the second half.

Floresca picked up his fourth foul with five minutes left in the third quarter just as Neosho had begun a 19-4 run that cut the lead to 52-39.

“They smacked us in the mouth in the second half,” said Webster Groves head coach Jay Blossom. “They kept battling and did some good stuff. I don’t think we let down. I think they got over the fear factor.”

With Floresca out of the lineup, Neosho found some openings inside against the Webster Groves defense. Darrian Guillory led the Wildcats with 15 points, and Lukas Werneke scored 11 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.

“They played hard. They fought hard,” said Neosho head coach Jason Horn. “In the first half, we were intimidated by their intensity and pressure. We tried to simulate it in practice, but it’s hard.

“That’s the best post player I’ve seen,” he said of Floresca. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years. It’s easier said than done to stop that.”

Webster Groves, the tournament champion in eight of the last nine years, will face Jefferson City in a semifinal at 6:30 p.m. today. Neosho will face William Chrisman in a consolation game at 5 p.m.

Webster Groves (7-2) outscored Neosho 23-6 in the first 5 1/2 minutes, limited the Wildcats to five points in the second quarter and led 45-18 at halftime. The Statesmen forced 18 first-half turnovers, but Neosho had just six turnovers in the second half.

“I thought we did some good things early,” Blossom said. “We were getting a lot of points off our defense early. We had some foul trouble. Most of it was self-induced by reaching and not moving our feet.”

Neosho’s third-quarter run began when Guillory scored inside on a pass from Werneke. Brett Williams and Werneke each made a 3-pointer, and the Wildcats’ defensive intensity held the Statesmen scoreless for 3 1/2 minutes during a 9-0 run.

Guillory scored inside for the first two points of the fourth quarter as the Wildcats pulled to within 54-41, but the return of Floresca helped limit the Wildcats to three field goals for the rest of the game.

Neosho (3-8) made 19 of 39 field-goal attempts (48.7 percent) compared with 29 of 56 (51.8 percent) for Webster Groves. The Statesmen outrebounded Neosho 30-23.

“Once we settled down and realized we can play with them, our confidence was rising with each possession,” Horn said. “We told them at halftime we already scored as many points as we did a year ago (in a 73-17 loss). We didn’t want to fold and give them a running clock against us. That’s a win for us in the second half.”

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