There was nothing extraordinary to be said by Logan-Rogersville players or head coach John Schaefer about Friday night’s free-throw shooting, but it paid off in the way of a third district championship in a row with a 51-48 win over Bolivar in Marshfield.
Sophomore JJ O’Neal had the final two with under three seconds to go, and the Wildcats shot 24 of 27 overall from the line in the victory.
“We practice those every single day, so I felt pretty confident up there,” said junior guard Kanon Gipson, who made 8 of 10 and finished with a game-high 17 points.
Cade Blevins, who made 10 of 11 free-throw attempts, stuck two that made it a 10-point game to end the third quarter, the last time that the teams would be separated by double-digits.
Two free throws by Hunter Berry, another by Kyle Pock and a touch basket by Brodie Pollock took Rogersville’s lead from nine to four in just over a minute and a half, a comeback aided by a few turnovers from the Wildcats.
“A lot of these kids have played in big games in front of crowds, so they’re used to that,” Schaefer said. “Every time Bolivar made a basket, the place erupts. Kids are looking around and you’re trying to get a teenager to pay attention, and you know that’s impossible unless you have money in your hand or a phone. But luckily we had some key timeouts left to get their attention, and they responded well.”
After Blevins failed to flush a dunk several possessions later, Pollock converted a layup that made it 44-41 with 1:13 left. Two from Gipson at the charity stripe were canceled out by a second-chance bucket by Pock (16 points) with 38.5 seconds remaining, then Blevins split his 1-and-1 to make it a four-point game. Running out of time, Bolivar’s Cooper Hitchcock missed a corner 3-pointer, but a weak-side offensive board resulted in a put-back bucket to make it 47-45 with 10.9 ticks on the clock.
Gipson, sent to the line again, converted both, but Berry kept the game alive with an off-balance 3-pointer. Officials reset the clock to 2.4 seconds as the Liberators instantly fouled, and O’Neal’s foul shots followed to sink the comeback effort.
“We had some turnovers that just weren't in our favor,” Blevins said. “It was bad. They were getting layups off of them. We got a little too excited and thought we had the game. Bolivar kept playing hard and I knew they would. Coach pulled us over and said, ‘We need to calm down and get going.’ We needed to make good passes, move the ball and take care of it.”
Schaefer said he was proud of the way the Wildcats finished. “We made some key mistakes and some big plays didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but I’d rather be lucky than good in March.”
Whether good or lucky, it marked the third time Logan-Rogersville beat Bolivar this season, albeit in close fashion. The Wildcats won all four meetings in the past two seasons, and they’ve won district titles as well.
The Liberators led 10-7 after the opening quarter, but Rogersville led by nine at halftime, the first 15 second-quarter points coming on three-point plays. Blevins (14 points) was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all his free throws, O’Neal and Josh Linehan each converted and-1 opportunities, and Gipson knocked down two shots from beyond the arc to provide some cushion that ended up paying off.
“Instead of going down and taking quick shots, we made them work, got it to the guys who we thought were a mismatch,” Schaefer said. “They’ve got a good inside-out game and we had some key stops, managed the game and had an 11-point lead at halftime, which is huge in this game. It evaporated in the third in about three possessions, but that’s about what you expect. It was a battle.”
The Wildcats (20-8), who reached the Final Four last year for the first time since 1986, now seek to make back-to-back appearances. They would get there with a win Tuesday in Nixa against Webb City, and another in Saturday's quarterfinals, where they'd face either Rolla or Helias at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.