Each and every time the Joplin Eagles made a run, the Hillcrest Hornets had a response.
As a result, the visiting Hornets defeated the Eagles 66-61 on Tuesday night in Ozark Conference boys basketball action at Kaminsky Gymnasium.
Jeff Hafer’s Eagles stayed within striking distance all game long, but they never could quite get over the hump.
“After we got down, we had to expend a lot of energy to get back into the game,” Hafer said “We’d have a good defensive possession, but then one guy would miss a blockout and they’d get an easy putback. Then it would balloon back to a seven- or eight-point game.”
Hafer added he was pleased with his team’s effort.
“I was proud of how our kids fought,” Hafer said. “We saw some good things and we’ve got to continue to build on those.”
The Hornets earned their first win in league play by answering every Joplin spurt with one of their own.
“It’s a nice win for us,” said Hillcrest coach Joel Brown. “We’ve been in that situation before and we haven’t always been able to respond positively when teams make a run. We were able to weather the storm tonight and never let them take the lead. I was proud of the resiliency our guys showed.”
The play of Darrian Guillory was a bright spot for Joplin. A 6-foot-3 senior guard, Guillory scored 22 points, knocking down four 3-pointers. Guillory scored 15 points after intermission.
“Darrian really asserted himself in the second half,” Hafer said. “He was the kind of player tonight that we know he can be. I was happy to see him make some shots and he’s got to continue to do that.”
Junior guard Dineji Olaniyan added 18 points for the Eagles, who slipped to 3-18 overall and 0-6 in Ozark Conference play.
Junior guard Shahn Clark scored 21 points for the Hornets, hitting five 3-pointers. Sophomore guard Jaydun Sydnor added 17 points for the Hornets, who improved to 7-14 overall and 1-4 in league play.
Using a motion offense, the Hornets shared the ball well, resulting in several easy hoops.
“We’ve been working on getting not just any shot, but a great shot,” said Brown, who is in his first season leading the Hornets. “When the guys move the ball well, we get good shots. We need to do that to be successful, and the guys shared the ball and didn’t care who got the shots.”
The Hornets took the lead right from the start, but after four points from Guillory, Joplin only trailed by five at 23-18 in the second quarter. But the Hornets scored five straight for a 10-point cushion.
“We hurt ourselves a lot in the first half with unforced turnovers,” Hafer said. “We gave them a lot of extra possessions. According to our stats, we had 10 unforced turnovers in the first half alone. It’s hard to recover from that.”
With hoops from Spencer Newell, Tory Lewis and Olaniyan, Joplin got within two at 32-30 early in the third period. But the Hornets then rattled off nine straight points.
Hillcrest’s Clark drilled a buzzer-beating trey to end the third quarter, giving the Hornets a 46-41 advantage.
Joplin kept coming, but Hillcrest kept answering. After a trey from Guillory, Joplin was down two with 7:25 to play. But the Hornets scored eight straight points. The Eagles had to begin fouling, and the Hornets made more than enough free throws to secure the win.
The Eagles will face a tough test on Friday when they travel to Kickapoo. The Chiefs (17-2) are currently ranked fourth in Class 5 by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association.