CASSVILLE, Mo. — Former Rolla girls basketball coach Luke Floyd stepped away from basketball after the 2018-19 campaign to spend more time with his family.

But little did he know how quickly it would take for him to start feeling that itch for coaching basketball again.

“About the time last season started,” Floyd said with a laugh. “I enjoyed being a dad and seeing my kids play. This is all I have ever done and I really missed it. I was excited to see the opportunity here open up. When I applied for it, I was grateful enough to get it.”

The Joplin girls basketball team entered a new era on Friday night in Floyd's coaching debut. In a hard-fought game that went down to the final minute, Joplin held off Cassville 36-30 at Cassville High School.

“It felt good to get that first win, but it felt great for the girls,” Floyd said. “Just to see them have some success. We are really challenging them every day to work hard and really buckle down on defense. I thought you saw that tonight. I thought they did an exceptional job. There were some things we needed to correct at halftime, and I felt like we corrected those in the second half.”

Joplin and Cassville exchanged leads through the first three quarters of the game, and that was certainly the case down the stretch. The Wildcats’ forward Kyren Postlewait knotted the score at 28, but the Eagles hit some big shots late.

With less than three minutes to go, sophomore Brynn Driver split two defenders for a layup on the right side for a 30-28 advantage. On the next possession, junior Emma Floyd ripped through the Cassville defense for an easy layin for the 32-28 lead.

Sophomore Isabella Yust hit two free throws to extend Joplin’s lead to 34-28 to make it a two-possession game .

“Those were huge because I think Cassvile forgot to take the lid off the bucket,” Floyd said. “We couldn’t get anything to fall. Brynn did a great job in the second half attacking. Emma did a good job attacking the glass.”

Junior Brooke Nice led the Eagles with 10 points while Driver supplied nine. Floyd chipped in eight points and Yust had seven. Sophomore Serafina Auberry rounded out Joplin’s scoring with two points.

Floyd said the win was a good starting point, especially considering the team was short-handed. The Eagles had one player out due to an illness and another because of wisdom teeth removal.

“That’s just how this year is going to go,” Floyd said. “But I told the girls ‘Tonight was a grind.’ Every bucket we got we had to grind for. Every defensive possession we had to grind for. Those games are exhausting physically and mentally, but the girls grinded for 32 minutes. I told them that is a sign of a good program and a good team. I think they are buying into that.

“I wrote on the top of our board ‘Believe.’ I told them ‘There's nothing we do tonight or this season if we don’t believe that we are capable of it.’ I think you can see the girls starting to believe.”

Junior Sharayah Seymour paced Cassville with 11 points while Postlewait had nine. Senior Lilly Harrison came up with five points, junior Riley Morris had four and sophomore Ashlynn Bryan had one.

“I’m not disappointed in our effort whatsoever,” Cassville coach Tom Hubbard said. “I thought we played the way we needed to on the defensive end and even on the offensive end. I’m going to hate and look back at our shooting percentage because we missed a lot of easy buckets that could have given us some separation in the second and third quarter. We just couldn’t finish when we had opportunities.

“For our first game, I hate the fact we didn’t win. We would like to win at home and win on our Senior Night. But this doesn’t make us or break us. We are going to learn and execute a little bit better. Maybe shoot the ball a little bit better.”

Joplin opens its home schedule against East Newton at 6 p.m. on Monday. The varsity game will be played first.

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