The Neosho Wildcats punched the Webb City Cardinals in the mouth first, starting the game with a 7-2 lead after five straight points to open the game from prolific scorer Brady Wise.
The Cardinals, however, hit Neosho with a strong counterpunch, a 18-2 run the rest of the first quarter and the first points of the second for a 20-9 lead.
Webb City’s Kyle Nichols sparked the Cardinals with a pair of consecutive trifectas in the first and it seemed like all night No. 0 had an outside shot, a layup, or free throws at the most opportune time for the Cardinals.
Behind the workmanlike A.C. Marion, Neosho fought its way back in the second half, down only four points with 3 minutes, 16 seconds remaining in regulation after a Marion old-fashioned three-point play. Marion produced a double-double Tuesday night, something that’s almost standard for No. 22.
The Wildcats, however, could not cash in and missed 3-point shots and even critical free throws down the stretch, while the Cardinals did enough work to hold on for a 60-52 win in the Central Ozark Conference Large opener Tuesday night.
Homecoming festivities and freshmen and JV games pushed the varsity game to an 8:30 p.m. start, but the teams rewarded the festive crowd with a quality basketball game.
Webb City improved to 5-7 overall and 1-0 COC Large, and the Cardinals return to action next Tuesday against McDonald County.
“We showed a lot of composure,” Webb City head coach Jason Horn said. “I don’t really worry about if we start a game slow, I feel like we have the athletes that can go make plays and we have enough skill guys that can get to the rim or hit open shots. I thought we had good looks early, they just weren’t falling for us. Guys did a good job of finding Kyle early, in spots where he can make plays and I think that opened up the lane for us, because they had to start closing out hard and we were able to get our guys to slash to the basket and get good looks at the rim. They made plays.”
Horn, who coached four seasons at Neosho before taking on the Webb City job, returned to Neosho for the first time as Webb City head coach.
“It’s not a game I ever want to play,” Horn said. “I coached Brady and that group was in the seventh grade. Yenj Lee, those are guys that I am close with and watched grow up. I spent a lot of time teaching and practicing the game of basketball with. It’s always hard for me. It’s not a game I want or like to play. I wish them nothing but success the rest of the way. I’m just happy my guys rose up and was able to get a road win here.”
Neosho dropped to 4-12 overall and 0-1 COC Large, and the Wildcats step over into Kansas for a road game Friday night against perennial small school powerhouse St. Mary’s Colgan.
“We started sharp and looked good,” Neosho head coach Tony Branscum said, “and got the looks that we wanted, then we just went haywire and our shot selection went out the window. Just bad shots, bad shots don’t usually go in, and that allowed them to stall our offense.
“We started the game well defensively, played hard, played good position, we let Tevaris loose baseline, we let Nichols loose for the first of two first quarter threes, and Nichols just got us. There’s not much more you can say. … Nichols is the one. He hit big points. He brought them back from the early deficit and he stretched their halftime lead immediately.”
Both teams had players — often guarding each other — who proved persistent around the basket.
For Neosho, it was Marion, who finished with a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds.
“A.C. played really well,” Branscum said. “We’ve come to expect good production out of him. Tonight was really good production. You can count on stuff like that, because he just works. We don’t set him, he just does it through work.”
For Webb City, it was senior Tevaris Young, who scored on back-to-back putbacks in the third quarter to give the Cardinals a 35-28 lead after Kaden King’s old-fashioned three-point play had Neosho within three at the 5:10 mark.
“Changed the game,” Horn said. “Those were big rebounds. Those were pivotal rebounds that allowed us to be able to stretch it a little bit and give us a cushion. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s a guy that we like to isolate. He can beat you both ways. He can get to the rim, he’s got a good mid-range game, and he can shoot the three really well. He did a good job and I’m proud of the effort that he put in.”
Nichols led Webb City with 16 points, while Grant Ellis and Alex Pickett each had 12.
Wise finished with 16 points for Neosho, as the Wise and Marion duo produced 38 on the night. Wise was named homecoming king.
AROUND THE COC TUESDAY
— Republic 40, Carl Junction 23. The Tigers’ defense suffocated Carl Junction, allowing the Bulldogs single-digit points in all four quarters, including four in the first and three in the third. So much for home court cooking. Tucker Thomas led Republic with 12 points, the only player in the game in double-digits. Carl Junction junior standout Trent Smith missed the game due to illness.
— Ozark 66, Carthage 34. Ozark standout guard Quinn Nelson poured in a game-high 26 points and five 3-point shots, alone counting for more trifectas than Carthage combined. Ian O’Malley and Arkell Smith led Carthage with eight points each.
— Nixa 62, Willard 59. What will be remembered about this game — especially for Nixa — is that Nixa led Willard 27-2 after the first quarter and had to fight off a monster comeback. Tailen Canady and Braeden Combs led the victors with 15 points each. Willard began the comeback trail with a 26-10 advantage in the second quarter.
WEBB CITY 60, NEOSHO 52
Webb City 18 9 14 19 — 60
Neosho 9 12 12 19 — 52
WEBB CITY (5-7, 1-0) — Kyle Nichols 16, Grant Ellis 12, Alex Pickett 12, Colton Carpenter 6, Tevaris Young 5, Trenton Simmons 5, Alex Gaskill 2, Tanner Rogers 2.
NEOSHO (4-12, 0-1) — A.C. Marion 22, Brady Wise 16, Cole Seward 6, Cade Cradduck 4, Kaden King 3, Sam Cook 1.