By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
CARTHAGE, Mo. —
CARTHAGE, Mo. — It wasn’t perfect, but Joplin Eagles boys basketball coach Jeff Williams will take it.
Joplin opened the season with a 64-51 win against the Springfield Central Bulldogs on Tuesday night in the first round of the 66th annual Carthage Invitational.
“The No. 1 goal we had tonight was to play hard, and I do think we accomplished that,” Williams said. “Now, smart and seasoned? No, we didn’t do that yet. But I’ll take the win and learn from our mistakes. We’ve got a couple days to practice and become a little more polished. In this tournament, in particular, we’re going to see pressure, and we need to handle it better than we did at times.”
Joplin (1-0) opened with a 31-23 halftime lead, but the Bulldogs charged back early in the second half by using full-court defensive pressure.
Central opened the second half on a 13-4 run to take a 36-35 lead with 5:10 remaining in the third quarter. Central junior Tre Robinson scored eight of his 15 points during that stretch.
The Eagles quickly responded with an inside bucket from senior Abe Hueller to regain the lead at 37-36 with 4:47 remaining. Not long after, Joplin displayed the ability to break the press as senior Tucker Wallace finished with layups on consecutive possessions. Then, junior guard Charlie Brown drained a 3-pointer to cap an 11-2 run and take a 46-38 lead with 1:30 left in the third.
The Bulldogs never came closer than within five points of the lead after that.
“I was proud of our guys when they got back on us,” Williams said. “We talked about that when things aren’t going well to let our leadership come out. So we did a good job of responding when they caught us.”
Brown led the Eagles with 25 points, including four 3-pointers. He also had an array of nice passes to give his teammates good looks at the basket.
“Charlie’s got a pretty complete game,” Williams said. “We want to make sure he involves all of our guys. That’s something we’re going to continue to work on, because he will get his points if he just continues to run the offense and play in the flow of the offense. Charlie’s a real nice kid and the future looks real bright for him.”
Joplin senior Adam St. Peter added 10 points for the Eagles. Robinson and D’Angelo Bedell led Central with 15 points each.
The Eagles advanced to the winner’s bracket semifinals and will play again Friday.