By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
The Joplin Eagles were in an offensive rut, scoring only seven points during a more than a 12-minute span in the second half.
Regardless, Joplin coach Jeff Williams was preaching defense to his players as his team trailed by as many as four points in the fourth quarter.
And defense is what catapulted the Eagles to a 43-40 win over the Francis Howell Vikings in the semifinals of the Kaminsky Classic on Friday night at Missouri Southern’s Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium.
Joplin’s defense forced the Vikings into six turnovers over the final 4 minutes, 38 seconds of the game.
“We really talked about defense,” Williams said. “If we can play defense the whole game the way we did those final minutes, we are capable of beating anybody.”
The win places Joplin (6-2) in the championship game of its tournament at 3:30 p.m. today against defending champion Webster Groves.
“It means everything to be in the finals,” said Joplin senior Adam St. Peter, who scored nine of his 11 points in the second half. “We haven’t won this tournament in a while. Hopefully, we can get another win.”
Joplin junior guard Charlie Brown, who scored 29 points during Thursday’s win over William Chrisman, recorded nine points early. His 3-pointer with 6:53 left in the second quarter gave the Eagles a 21-11 lead.
However, the Viking defense focused on Brown and kept him scoreless over the next 19 minutes. During that time, Francis Howell (1-9) outscored Joplin 25-11 to hold a 36-32 lead with less than four minutes left in the game. He was limited to 4-of-19 shooting from the field.
“We tried to keep him out of the lane,” Francis Howell coach Mike Storm said. “He’s not only good at scoring for himself, but he can create things for others when he gets into the lane. In the fourth quarter, we gave him a lot of individual attention.”
But when Joplin needed it most, Brown got into the lane and ended his long scoring drought with a driving bucket in which he was fouled. The three-point play pulled Joplin within 36-35 with 3:32 remaining.
After Francis Howell pulled the lead back out to three points, St. Peter responded with a steal and layup to make it 38-37. St. Peter then made an inside bucket to give Joplin a 39-38 lead with 1:49 left.
Brown was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final minute to secure the victory.
Joplin was led by Brown with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. Able Hueller recorded eight points and five rebounds for the Eagles.
Nic Perkins led Francis Howell with 14 points and six rebounds.
WEBSTER GROVES 59, JEFFERSON CITY 45
The defending champion Statesmen shot 63.6 percent from the field in the first half en route to a 34-18 halftime lead and a trip to the tournament final.
Webster Groves took a 10-point advantage over Jefferson City at the 4:36 mark of the first quarter and led by double digits the rest of the way.
Three Statesmen scored in double figures with Michael Gulve making 9-of-12 shots from the field for 18 points. Sam Craig added 16 points and Alex Floresca scored 15 points. Cameron Hilton grabbed 11 rebounds as Webster Groves took a 28-16 rebounding advantage.
Scott Stegeman led the Jays with 15 points and six rebounds. Harold Robertson pitched in with 12 points.