The Neosho Wildcats and the Seneca Indians meet again tonight, teams who opened their seasons against each other in late November in the 71st edition of the Carthage Invitational.
In that first meeting, Seneca outscored Neosho 14-7 in the second quarter for a 25-17 halftime lead en route to a 61-55 win.
Brett Reeves led Seneca with 18 points, while Isaiah Grotjohn scored all 14 of his points in the second half and then Cameron Brattin added 11, Gavin Clouse six, and Gavin Dunnam and Preston Armstrong five each.
Diamond transfer Cole Seward scored 18 points in his Neosho debut, leading the Wildcats. A.C. Marion had 14 points, Brady Wise 12, and Kaden King seven. (King is the nephew of Seneca’s head coach.)
“I’m very proud of the effort all night long,” Seneca head coach Will King said after the game. “We made a lot of mistakes, we turned the ball over a lot, and made some silly decisions on offense, but I liked how we competed in all four quarters. We never had a let down and we moved onto the next play, which is important. We constantly battled the entire night.
“Several players and I think everybody stepped up tonight and took pride in battling. That helps win. I was watching the Michigan State-North Carolina game and Tom Izzo at Michigan State, they play defense, they guard, and they held a high-scoring North Carolina team to 45 points and that’s what it takes. We’ve got to keep battling.”
“Our comfort level rose in the second half,” Neosho head coach Tony Branscum said. “A new lineup, so I liked some of what I saw in the second half and maybe we will apply more of that in the second game. I think we’ll be more comfortable to start that game. We were unsettled and sloppy to start. We just didn’t get with it soon enough.
“They (Seneca) got run-out layups on us. We didn’t get back very well. They shot better than us from the outside. Those guys showed they can really shoot and of course, the bigs are a problem. Those guys are long-time threats for Seneca and they’re hard to handle.”
Neosho and Seneca are teams headed in opposite directions early in the season.
The Indians are 5-1 on the season after playing in the Carthage and Seneca tournaments. Seneca defended its home invitational tournament title with a 3-0 mark against Miami, Diamond, and Monett. The Indians finished third in Carthage with wins over Neosho and Rogers, and their loss of the season against unbeaten Joplin.
The Wildcats have dropped six consecutive games and own a 1-7 record for their worst start since the one-win 2012-13 season.
Six of Neosho’s seven losses have been by seven points or less, with the only win 54-49 over McDonald County in Carthage.
The Wildcats have been in the lead in several of their losses, only to see opponents go on big runs (Bearden and the NWA Hornets) or go on free throw shooting tears (Cassville and Monett). For example, Monett made 10 consecutive free throws down the stretch of a 63-58 win Tuesday; Neosho held a 45-40 lead at one point early in the fourth.
With a win, Seneca can head into winter break with a 6-1 record, which would be the Indians’ best start in several seasons.
Meanwhile, a win for Neosho would end the losing streak and give the Wildcats some positive momentum headed into their Holiday Classic which starts play December 27.