What if? That’s the question that has swirled around the Neosho boys’ basketball team all year long.



What if Alex Wise had been 100 percent all year long?



What if Ethan Murray hadn’t had to play point guard for half of the year? What if Marcus Middleton and Dustin Flory played to their potential in the low block?



Well, what if someone said they now know the answer to all of those “what ifs”?


What if? That’s the question that has swirled around the Neosho boys’ basketball team all year long.

What if Alex Wise had been 100 percent all year long?

What if Ethan Murray hadn’t had to play point guard for half of the year? What if Marcus Middleton and Dustin Flory played to their potential in the low block?

Well, what if someone said they now know the answer to all of those “what ifs”?

The Wildcats got a balanced and strong effort from the entire team Friday night and defeated Willard 62-55 in the seniors’ last game inside NHS gym.

“As a team our kids have been really up and down this year and it’s been hard dealing with all of these tough losses,” head coach Ben Ponce said after the game.

Before the game, Ponce took the microphone and called upon his senior leader Alex Wise to join him at half court where Ponce presented Wise with the ball that Wise scored his 1,000th point with and also informed Wise and everyone else in attendance that he had been officially nominated as a McDonald’s All-American Candidate.

After that pregame ceremony, Neosho came out with tremendous intensity and drained two straight 3-pointers for an early 6-0 lead. Fellow senior Kagean Wilkey played an outstanding first quarter and led the Wildcats to a 17-16 lead after the first period of play.

In the second quarter, Willard star Tim Huskinsson, who has already signed to play basketball at Northern Colorado, took over. He scored all 10 of his first half points in the second quarter. There was a sequence starting at the 1:06 mark where Huskinsson stole a pass on the perimeter and slammed it home on the other end and then on the ensuing Neosho possession he swatted a jump shot into the first row of the stands.
In all, Huskinsson had three blocked shots in the last 60 seconds of the first half and he sparked Willard, which earned the number one seed in Neosho’s district, to a 31-27 lead at the half.

If Wilkey carried the Wildcats to a lead in the first quarter, then Flory and Middleton kept the game within striking distance in the second.

“He (Flory) came into the game and definitely gave us a spark,” Ponce said. “He missed a few shots but he was going as hard as he could and he really helped us in the first half coming off the bench. Marcus (Middleton) did an awesome job finding the gaps in the defense and stepping in and knocking down some layups.”

In the third quarter, Willard looked like they were ready to pull away early on.

However a 3-pointer by Jared Hill once again brought the game within striking distance. At about the 3:50 mark, Huskinsson was forced to sit with foul trouble and the Wildcats went on a quick 7-2 run and took the lead at 44-43 on a Murray trey with 1:33 to play in the third. The third quarter ended with Neosho leading 46-45.

At the start of the fourth, Willard once again turned to their star to bring the game back to them and he responded for the Tigers. At the 4:52 mark, Huskinsson, who finished with a game-high 19 points, drained a three to tie the score at 52 apiece.

With just under four minutes to play, Flory picked up his fifth foul and had to sit down for the remainder of the night. With Neosho in need of a spark, senior Zane Culp stepped up. After giving up the lead again to Willard, Culp drained a huge trey to give the Wildcats a lead that they would never relinquish.

Down the stretch, Willard was forced to repeatedly heave the ball from long range and the shots weren’t falling. With less than one minute to play, it was Wise, the senior leader who had been honored before the game for his scoring prowess, who came up with two timely defensive rebounds; and appropriately, it was Wise who iced the game from the charity stripe.

“Alex is a playmaker,” a proud Ponce said. “A player like that just controls the whole game. The guys just fed off of his assists. I would say he had eight assists tonight, but his will and his love for this game is just so strong, he lit a fire in all of (his teammates) and they responded tonight. I am just so proud of him tonight.”
The win, which improves Neosho’s record to 7-17 overall and keeps them from going winless in Central Ozark Conference play 1-7, provides some welcome momentum to a team that has taken it’s lumps this season.

“This could be a real momentum push into districts,” Ponce added. “Hopefully, we give our best effort every night and we might come out on the winning side of things.”

After the game, Wise had more people wanting to take his picture than Lady Gaga on the red carpet. He took a moment after the win to reflect on his career as a Neosho basketball player.

“This feels really good,” Wise said. “It’s been a rough season, I didn’t get to play the first half (of the year) but, it just feels really good to get a win in front of the home crowd in our last game ever playing in this gym. We waited until the last game of the year to show it, but we’re really coming together right now. Flory fights hard, Marcus fights hard down there in the low post, Zane knocks down 3’s, Kagean takes the ball to the hole, it’s just a good team effort and everyone knows their role now.”

Scorers for Neosho were Middleton 12, Culp and Wilkey 11, Murray 10, Wise 7, Flory 6, and Hill 5.

Neosho is the number five seed in the Class 5 District 12 Tournament. They will take on­­­­­­ Joplin in the first round on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Willard.