By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
CARTHAGE — The Nixa Eagles stifled the potentially explosive Raymore-Peculiar Panthers in the first half and built a 20-point halftime lead, a margin large enough to withstand a sluggish quarter-and-a-half of play for the Eagles after halftime before they held on strong down the home stretch and earned a 52-34 victory Saturday for the Carthage Invitational title.
“We responded (late),” Nixa head coach Jay Osborne said. “We got complacent there with a 20-point lead and we just went through the motions. It’s human nature. I just told ’em in the locker room, ‘You’ve got to have a killer instinct, you’ve got to try and bury someone because in this day and age, 20-point leads are not safe.’ Maybe in 1974 they were, but not now.
“That No. 1 (Iryn Allen) carries them and he’s explosive. He can get 20 on his own in five minutes, so I thought our first half was outstanding. Our help defense and we moved the ball well (offensively). (Jason) Jones did a really good job scoring for us. We got good minutes out of people. We’re still trying to find ourselves and we’re not shooting the ball real well right now. We start shooting the ball well, we’re going to be hard to handle.”
During the Eagles’ outstanding first half, their defense especially excelled, holding Ray-Pec to 12 points in 16 minutes, seven in the first and five in the second quarter.
Please keep in mind Ray-Pec scored 70 points Friday night in the semifinals against Nevada.
Meanwhile, on the offensive end, Nixa’s high-low combination of 6-foot-6 senior Jason Jones and 6-4 junior Jaret Nelson proved a tall task for Ray-Pec defenders in the first half. Jones and Nelson combined for 19 points, a seven-point advantage on Ray-Pec overall at halftime.
Jones’ first basket of the night came on a 3-pointer and he proved an effective passer over the top of the Ray-Pec defense.
Ray-Pec came alive halfway through the third quarter and cut Nixa’s lead from 38-16 down to 39-30 with 4 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the fourth. The Eagles endured a nearly 5-minute stretch without a point, while the Panthers scored the first seven points of the fourth.
Eighteen seconds after a Nixa timeout, Eagles junior guard Colin Ruffin stepped up and knocked down a 3-point shot from the top of the key to stop the bleeding and get the lead back into double-digits, where it remained the rest of the way as Ruffin’s trifecta sparked a 7-0 run. Also, Nixa made six consecutive free throws late, always good for extending a lead.
Jones led all scorers with 15 points, while Nelson and Ruffin each added 10, Jordyn Turner provided a spark off the bench with nine (seven after halftime), and T.J. Sorgenfrei scored all five of his points in the first half.
Nixa limited Ray-Pec’s dynamic junior guard Iryn Allen to 14 points, who lit up Nevada for 33 points Friday. Sorgenfrei mostly guarded Allen on-ball with plenty of help from teammates. Allen rarely found any open look at the basket and worked extra hard for seemingly every point Saturday. When Allen found his best look for a 3-pointer Saturday, it was in the fourth quarter and he shot an air ball.
The Eagles improved to 4-0 in the early season and they return home Wednesday for a clash against Blair Oaks, a 28-3 team in Class 3 last season. Both Nixa and Blair Oaks moved up a classification this season, Nixa in the new (for basketball) Class 6 alongside Branson, Glendale, and Ozark in District 11.
In earlier games Saturday, Nevada defeated Joplin 47-39 for third place, West Plains edged out host Carthage 56-54 for fifth, and lone Kansas school Leavenworth beat Carl Junction 49-46 for seventh to start the day in style.