JOPLIN — The superior athleticism of the Joplin Eagles finally took control of the contest Wednesday night with the Neosho Wildcats at Kaminsky Gymnasium.
A Cade Cradduck basket made it a 36-30 game around the midway point of the third quarter, but then the Eagles went on a 7-0 run over the next couple minutes for a 43-30 lead, thanks to 3-point shots by seniors Zach Taylor and Garrett Woods.
Neosho junior A.C. Marion and senior Brady Wise — the Wildcats’ 1-2 punch all season — gave the Wildcats some hope headed into the fourth with the last four points of the third. Neosho headed into the final 8 minutes down single-digits, 43-34.
Joplin scored 11 of the first 15 points of the fourth and took a 54-38 lead en route to a 64-44 victory over a future conference rival, a stretch where Joplin junior Zach Westmoreland scored eight points on a pair of layups, a 3-point shot, and a free throw.
Joplin’s Westmoreland (6-foot-1), Grant Guillory (6-4), Woods (6-3), Evan Guillory (6-2), Austin Higdon (6-4), Braeden Testerman (6-2), and Ayush Patel (6-4) all gave a smaller Neosho squad fits with their length.
The Eagles came through with more critical runs Wednesday night. For example, Neosho earned a 26-24 score late in the first half when Cole Seward knocked down a 3-pointer, but, then, Woods hit a trifecta and Evan Guillory picked up a basket for a 31-24 Joplin lead at halftime.
Both teams entered the night desperate for a win headed into the postseason — the Eagles, after a 11-1 start, had lost five of their last six games, while the Wildcats had lost five straight.
The Wildcats have now lost six in a row headed into their Central Ozark Conference Large contest Friday night at home against Willard.
Joplin and Neosho are schools that could soon meet again in district play.
Wise led all scorers Wednesday night with 15 points and Marion and Seward finished with 10 and nine points, respectively. Seward fouled out late. Despite having another home game against Carthage, Friday night will be Senior Night against Willard, when seniors Wise and Yeej Lee will be honored.
Westmoreland paced Joplin with 14 points, leading three Eagles in double figures. Higdon and Testerman added 12 and 10 points, respectively, and Evan Guillory and Woods were not far behind the three in double figures with eight points each. Joplin knocked down eight 3-point shots, four in each half and their ability to shoot it outside opened up those driving lanes.
“We played hard and dug in on defense in a 3-2 zone,” Neosho head coach Tony Branscum told Josh King of NeoshoWildcatSports.com, “which is not typical. We have used it this year. You’re supposed to attack the corners of a 3-2 zone, that’s the vulnerability of that particular defense and that’s exactly where Joplin went. They got some open shots and they hit, and that made it tough to hang in the first half, but we did. We played well, but what we needed though was for them to be missing and us to make them pay in the first half. The end of the first half, we did not execute offensively or defensively … it cost us.”
JOPLIN 64, NEOSHO 44
Neosho 13 11 10 10 — 44
Joplin 18 13 12 21 — 64
NEOSHO (4-17) — Brady Wise 15, A.C. Marion 10, Cole Seward 9, Kaden Dickens 6, Sam Cook 2, Cade Cradduck 2.
JOPLIN (13-6) — Zach Westmoreland 14, Austin Higdon 12, Braeden Testerman 10, Evan Guillory 8, Garrett Woods 8, Isaiah Davis 4, Zach Taylor 3, Grant Guillory 2, Ayush Patel 2, Blake Tash 1.