CARTHAGE — Old rivals Neosho and Seneca opened their seasons against each other in the opening game of the 71st annual Carthage Invitational on Monday night in the auxiliary gym at Carthage High School.
Seneca took control of the contest in the second quarter, outscoring the Wildcats 14-7 for a 25-17 halftime lead, and then held on for a 61-55 win, earning a spot in the semifinals against the Joplin Eagles.
“I’m very proud of the effort all night long,” Seneca head coach Will King said. “We made a lot of mistakes, we turned the ball over a lot, and made some silly decisions on offense, but I liked how we competed in all four quarters. We never had a let down and we moved onto the next play, which is important. We constantly battled the entire night.
“Several players and I think everybody stepped up tonight and took pride in battling. That helps win. I was watching the Michigan State-North Carolina game (Sunday night) and Tom Izzo at Michigan State, they play defense, they guard and they held a high-scoring North Carolina team to 45 points and that’s what it takes. We’ve got to keep battling.”
Senior guard Brett Reeves led Seneca with 18 points, while sophomore Isaiah Grotjohn made his varsity debut a memorable one with 14 points, all in the second half. Senior big men Cameron Brattin and Gavin Dunnam added 11 and five points, respectively. Gavin Clouse had six points and sophomore Preston Armstrong’s five points included a 3-point shot at the third quarter buzzer that gave the Indians a 43-32 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Cole Seward led Neosho with 18 points, nearly all those he scored in the second half. Seward — a Diamond transfer — made his Neosho debut. A.C. Marion added 14 points, Brady Wise 12, and Kaden King scored seven points in his debut as the Wildcats’ starting point guard.
“Our comfort level rose in the second half,” Neosho head coach Tony Branscum said. “A new lineup, so I liked some of what I saw in the second half and maybe we will apply more of that in the second game. I think we’ll be more comfortable to start that game. We were unsettled and sloppy to start (Monday night). We just didn’t get with it soon enough.
“They got run-out layups on us. We didn’t get back very well. They shot better than us from the outside. Those guys showed they can really shoot and of course, the bigs are a problem. Those guys are long-time threats for Seneca and they’re hard to handle.”
Seneca generated more points Monday night than in the previous two Carthage Tournament openers combined — Monday’s 61 points beating the 56 combined points from the 40 last season against Joplin and the 16 two seasons ago against McDonald County. The Indians lost both of those previous games in routs, but Monday’s win moved the Indians into the championship semifinals.
“It was a fun night,” King said. “Have a lot of good connections to Neosho. Coach Branscum and his staff do a good job. Kaden King, the point guard, my nephew, there’s always a little chatter back and forth when you’re playing family, so we’re going to continue it when we (Neosho and Seneca) play December 15.”
Neosho plays McDonald County in the consolation semifinals.
Joplin 68, McDonald County 42
The Mustangs started out Monday night’s quarterfinal game in style and a 5-0 lead, on a Cooper Reece basket and a Peyton Barton old-fashioned three-point play.
However, Joplin outscored McDonald County 23-4 the rest of the first quarter en route to a 23-9 lead after one quarter and eventual 26-point victory.
It was a 45-29 game with 4 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter and the Eagles have been whistled for a pair of technical fouls, giving McDonald County sharpshooter Blake Gravette four free throws and then possession of the ball.
This was THE opportunity for the Mustangs — four made free throws and a 3-point shot on the subsequent possession … and it’s a single-digit game for the first time since late in the first quarter.
The normally reliable Gravette, however, blanked on all four free throws and then Joplin continued to build on its lead heading into the fourth, leading by 26 after three quarters.
Austin Higdon scored a game-high 20 points to spark the Eagles, while three more players scored double-digits with Evan Guillory adding 12, Zach Westmoreland 11, and Braeden Testerman 10.
Reece led McDonald County with 10 points, while Cole DelosSantos had eight and Barton and Gravette each had seven.
McDonald County dropped to 0-2, with both losses coming against Joplin.
SENECA 61, NEOSHO 55
Seneca 11 14 18 18 — 61
Neosho 10 7 15 23 — 55
SENECA (1-0) — Reeves 18, Clouse 6, Russell 2, Grotjohn 14, Pr. Armstrong 5, Brattin 11, Dunnam 5.
NEOSHO (0-1) — Seward 18, Wise 12, King 7, Marion 14, Cook 1, Lee 3.
JOPLIN 68, McDONALD COUNTY 42
McDonald County 9 12 10 11 — 42
Joplin 23 16 18 11 — 68
McDONALD COUNTY (0-2) — Reece 10, DelosSantos 8, Barton 7, Gravette 7, Dowd 5, C. Smith 3, Shields 2.
JOPLIN (2-0) — Higdon 20, E. Guillory 12, Westmoreland 11, Testerman 10, Patel 5, Taylor 4, G. Guillory 3, Davis 2, Woods 1.