Joplin’s seniors came up big down the stretch, and the Eagles kept their conference title hopes alive by earning a hard-fought 51-46 homecoming win over Republic on Friday night in Central Ozark Conference boys basketball action inside a packed Kaminsky Gymnasium.
“Seven seniors played tonight and seven seniors won the game for us,” Joplin coach Jeff Hafer said. “I’m so proud of them. They really earned this win.”
The defending conference champs, Republic entered the night unbeaten in COC play.
“Coach told us this was one of the biggest games of the year against one of the toughest teams,” Joplin senior guard Isaiah Davis said. “We knew we had to bring the intensity, and that’s what we did.”
After Friday’s action, Joplin, Republic and Nixa are all 5-1 in COC play, while Ozark is 4-1.
Davis led Joplin (16-5) with 15 points, while Zach Westmoreland added 14 and Dakarai Allen had nine.
Joe Rexroat scored 17 to lead Republic (17-6), while Race Looney added 12.
The back and forth contest was deadlocked at 42 with 2:30 left when Davis hit two free throws. The Tigers turned it over and fouled, with Joplin’s Allen making 1-of-2 at the charity stripe.
The Tigers pulled within one after Will Berry hit two foul shots with 1:01 remaining.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Davis threw a long pass to a streaking Westmoreland, who got behind the defense and threw down a dunk to make it a two-possession game with 55 seconds left.
“What was special was we called that on the fly,” Hafer said of the home run play. “We didn’t call a timeout, we saw pressure coming and called the play out. And boy did they execute it. It’s awful nice to have someone like Zach who can complete those plays.”
With time running out, Republic misfired on a 3-point attempt and fouled Joplin’s Will Rader.
Another senior, Rader calmly sank two clutch free throws with nine seconds left. Looney kept the Tigers within three after hitting two charities at the seven-second mark.
But Rader drew another foul and sealed the win by converting two more crucial free throws with two seconds left.
“I was just hoping I would knock them all down,” Rader said. “I was thinking, ‘Don’t miss these.’ I’ve been waiting for a chance to do something like that. I’m just glad I was able to come through for the team.”
“Will really stepped up at the end of the game,” Hafer said. “And he had a key block out to draw a foul to give us a chance to extend the lead.”
The intense matchup saw a number of swings.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Joplin senior Tommy Hafer and a hoop in transition from Westmoreland gave Joplin a 23-12 lead, but Republic put together a 13-0 run to briefly pull ahead.
Allen’s 3-pointer from the left wing gave the Eagles a one-point halftime advantage.
The game was tied at 36 late in the third period before Davis’ putback just before the buzzer pushed the hosts in front by two entering the fourth quarter.
The Eagles finished the game on a 9-4 burst.
“Joplin’s got a really good basketball team,” Republic coach Tim Brown said. “They’re one of the most athletic teams in Southwest Missouri. That group of kids has had a great run in all their sports, and that says a lot about their character and their skill set. Their athleticism gave us some problems tonight. But I’m proud of my kids. We had our backs to the wall multiple times, but battled through it. We just couldn’t get over the hump. Joplin made some big plays down the stretch.”
NOTES: Joplin played without Always Wright, as the sophomore guard was out sick. Hafer credited senior post player Isaac Meeks will providing key minutes off the bench. Republic’s girls beat Joplin 69-20 on Thursday. Joplin is at Carl Junction for a “Super Night” on Tuesday night, with the girls game slated for 6.