The Neosho Wildcats dropped their fifth straight game with a 69-47 loss Friday night against Central Ozark Conference Large foe Branson.

Trey Benard sparked the Pirates with 12 points in the first half and then 12 points in the third quarter en route to a game-high 26 points.

The Pirates once led 58-30 after a 13-0 run in the third quarter.

“He’s super,” Neosho head coach Tony Branscum said of Benard to Josh King of NeoshoWildcatSports.com. “He’s a high-level college basketball player, at least tonight. He’s got the physical tools, the strength and the athleticism, he’s got a great handle on the ball, he’s got good vision, and he plays the game strong. That was tough to handle. I think he hit five of his first six shots and got off early … he just waylaid us.”

A.C. Marion and Brady Wise combined for 25 points after halftime for the Wildcats (Neosho had 16 points at halftime), and Marion did not let a first-half nose bleed slow him down. Alas, their production was not enough to reign in the Pirates.

Wise led Neosho with 16 points and Marion had 13.

“They hit shots,” Branscum said. “They hit a bunch of outside shots. We did not. That’s tough. … We needed more offense in the first half, in the second quarter, and then we needed to contain the ball better. That’s one thing that hurt us, we got broken down off the dribble, which obviously leads to layups but even worse, they’re getting kick-outs for threes.”

Branson improved to 7-12 overall and 2-1 COC Large, while Neosho dropped to 4-16 and 0-3.

It will be a busy week, weather permitting, for the Wildcats — COC Large rivals Carthage and Willard at home on Tuesday and Friday, respectively, and then a game Wednesday at future conference and current district rival Joplin, a makeup date from an early January postponement.

“They (Carthage) got us by one in the Carthage tournament,” Branscum said. “Boy, that morning, we had a 6-footer at the buzzer to win it and just didn’t go down. The boys executed that play really well and got the shot that we wanted. If it comes down to that again, I’ll take that opportunity … I think that shot goes down.”