SENECA — The Seneca Indians and the McDonald County Mustangs were teams seemingly headed in opposite directions entering their Big 8 Conference clash Friday night.
Seneca began the season 6-1 before three losses in the first four games of the new year.
McDonald County started 0-6 before winning four of the last six, including the Mustangs’ Big 8 opener Tuesday against Monett.
With 48.8 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Mustangs up 51-44 after two Peyton Barton free throws, it looked as if the teams would continue traveling in their recent directions on parallel tracks.
However, Seneca scored the final seven points of regulation and then used a 10-4 advantage in overtime en route to a 17-4 edge the final 4 minutes, 48.8 seconds and a 61-55 win.
“I almost feel like we stole a game on our own floor here,” Seneca head coach Will King said. “I think games like this make believers out of kids moving forward. That’s an unique situation, but even down four or five with 3 minutes left in the huddle, we’re like ‘Don’t panic, there’s lots of game left. One possession at a time. You never know.’ We talked about stealing the inbound pass and getting a good shot up. I think Isaiah Grotjohn hit a big 3 right there and we got a few good things to go our way. Just the battle of never giving up and I think our guys battled all night. When you give yourself a chance, who knows.”
In those final 48.8 seconds of regulation, Seneca’s Brett Reeves made it a 51-46 game on a basket, then on the ensuing inbound play, McDonald County was called for an offensive foul.
With 36.2 ticks remaining, Grotjohn found himself open at the top of the key and he stepped into a 51-49 score.
McDonald County turned it over in the backcourt and Seneca senior Gavin Dunnam — mostly held in check Friday night by McDonald County’s big men Cooper Reece and Tim Shields — found an opening and a tie score.
The Mustangs called timeout with 4.6 seconds remaining and Barton’s game-winner attempt rimmed out. Seneca’s Gavin Clouse rounded up the rebound and it was overtime.
Early in overtime, it was a strategical battle between King and McDonald County head coach Kyle Fields.
The Indians blanked on three free throws to start the extra period, but over 2 minutes in, Clouse hit a 3-pointer for the first points of overtime and this shot seemed to wrest control of the game once and for all toward Seneca.
“They came out on us and changed defenses to start that overtime period,” King said. “We were content to hold it for a minute to get into something else. We did and it was a good look, and he (Clouse) does some big things. That three was huge and he took a charge or two late. He’s such a competitor. Of course quarterback of the football team and great leader. He’s one of those guys in the trenches always battling.”
Clouse led Seneca with 14 points, while Reeves had 13 and Preston Armstrong and Grotjohn each had 11. Grotjohn scored all 11 of his points in the fourth and overtime.
Blake Gravette scored a game-high 17 points for the Mustangs and it seemed like his shooting either from 3-point range or the line could break the game wide open. Alas, it never did, as Gravette turned cold from the outside and scored his only four points of the fourth at the line, but he fouled out late in overtime as the Mustangs entered must foul mode.
Reece scored 14 points and Shields added seven, as McDonald County’s interior duo mostly outplayed Seneca’s duo of Dunnam and Cameron Brattin, who finished with nine points combined.
Barton added eight points before fouling out late and Cade Smith netted the Mustangs’ only four points of overtime at the line on his way to seven for the game.
Seneca, now 8-4 overall and 1-0 Big 8, returns to action at home Tuesday night against Southwest, with a varsity start at 6 p.m. The Indians then play Thursday in Jay (Oklahoma) for the Tri-State Classic, taking on Lifeway Christian (Arkansas) at approximately 3 p.m.
“We talked about that we struggled after Christmas,” King said. “We started off great before Christmas and we’ve struggled after Christmas so far, so we needed something to give us confidence, to give us momentum. Hopefully, this is the game that will put us over the hump. We have four games next week and so we need some confidence going forward.
“I have the utmost respect for Kyle and Jamey (Gilion) and what McDonald County does. We knew it was going to be a battle, two teams that are very similar. We both have some bigs, some guards that can do some things, and we play physical, good defense. That’s what it was, a battle all night and they were ahead most of the game. Fortunate for us, we had some good things happen at the end.”
McDonald County, 4-9 overall and 1-1 Big 8, plays Webb City in the Cardinal Dome on Tuesday night. Like Big 8 rivals East Newton and Seneca, McDonald County heads to the Tri-State Classic for an opening game Thursday against host Jay. That will be the late contest.
SENECA 61, McDONALD COUNTY 55 (OT)
McDonald County 10 11 15 15 4 — 55
Seneca 9 8 14 20 10 — 61
McDONALD COUNTY (4-9, 1-1) — Blake Gravette 17, Cooper Reece 14, Peyton Barton 8, Cade Smith 7, Tim Shields 7, Boston Dowd 2.
SENECA (8-4, 1-0) — Gavin Clouse 14, Brett Reeves 13, Preston Armstrong 11, Isaiah Grotjohn 11, Gavin Dunnam 5, Cameron Brattin 4, Payton Armstrong 3.