ANDERSON — In one of the great rivalry games, the McDonald County Mustangs made enough free throws down the stretch after the Neosho Wildcats failed to gain the lead late in the game, as the Mustangs made 10 free throws in the final 55.3 seconds to earn a 50-44 win Friday night.
The Mustangs used their superior size advantage — namely 6-foot-5 players Cooper Reece and Tim Shields — while the Wildcats relied on their perimeter players Brady Wise and Cole Seward for the majority of their scoring punch. Only 10 players reached the scoring column Friday night, five players for each team.
Neosho trailed 40-34 in the fourth before a Seward basket, a Wise free throw split, and two clutch Cade Cradduck free throws made it 40-39 with 1:57 remaining.
The Wildcats had a pair of chances to take the lead, but Seward had his shot altered badly and then in a transition situation off a turnover, Wise missed a layup and Shields procured the rebound, passed the ball to point guard Boston Dowd, and Dowd put the Mustangs up for good on a pair of free throws.
The Mustangs gutted out a big one Friday night and finished the week 2-1 against all three Central Ozark Conference Large opponents, losing to Webb City and defeating Carthage and Neosho.
“That’s what we talked about in the locker room,” McDonald County head coach Kyle Fields said. “In these rivalry games, where emotions are very high, it’s going to be nip and tuck and there’s a couple possessions that’s going to shift you one way or another and I thought we had a couple possessions late that kinda shifted it our way. We gutted it out and I’m proud of our guys.
“2-1 in COC week. Started off the week (Monday) against a good Webb City team at their place and we felt like we got better there. Finished off the week strong, really proud of our guys for playing against the competition at this level.”
Meanwhile, Neosho played its first game in two weeks and dropped to 4-15 on the season.
“We did enough to give ourselves a chance to go up late,” Neosho head coach Tony Branscum said. “We didn’t take advantage of a couple key opportunities. A close game like that and a hotly contested game like that, points are hard to come by and you’ve got to take advantage of all easy opportunities. We had a few of them that we needed to take advantage of and we didn’t.”
Reece and Shields combined for 29 points on the night — Reece 17, Shields 12 — and it seemed like the Mustangs scored the vast majority of their points inside the paint, barring free throws and three Blake Gravette 3-point shots.
“That’s where our advantage was tonight,” Fields said. “With our two bigs in there, if they use their bodies well, they can get good shots. We were able to get some great offensive rebounds from them, too, and so we didn’t go to the line enough in the first half, but we did in the second half. We attacked the basket little more and that’s why we scored more in the second half.”
Neosho’s A.C. Marion, a player who averaged 14 points and 8.4 rebounds entering the night, scored the opening points of the night and that was that for No. 22 against the bigger Mustangs.
Wise and Seward led Neosho with 21 and 13 points, respectively.
Both coaches and both communities should definitely agree that Neosho and McDonald County represents one of the best rivalries in the state of Missouri.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t come out on top,” Branscum said, “but it’s an experience that guys remember. It’s a good game every year, whether it’s here or in Neosho. It’s always well attended and you saw the passion in the players tonight and the desire to compete. That’s really what you want to see whether you come out on top or not. You want to see the passion for the game. We saw that from both sides tonight. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Mac County. They did enough to win tonight, earned a season split. We wanted a sweep, they wanted a split, and they got their way tonight.”
“It’s been a deep-rooted rivalry,” Fields said. “It’s fun. It’s a great atmosphere and maybe one of the best rivalry games in the area. If we can calm our emotions a little bit in games like this, I think we’ll be able to play in the playoffs in some highly-anticipated games.”
Neosho returns to action Tuesday night against Republic, while McDonald County returns to action Tuesday night against Cassville.
McDONALD COUNTY 50, NEOSHO 44
Neosho 10 8 11 15 — 44
McDonald County 9 8 16 17 — 50
NEOSHO (4-15) — Brady Wise 21, Cole Seward 13, Cade Cradduck 5, Yeej Lee 3, A.C. Marion 2.
McDONALD COUNTY (8-10) — Cooper Reece 17, Tim Shields 12, Blake Gravette 9, Peyton Barton 8, Boston Dowd 4.