Second-half surge lifts Willard past Joplin in fifth-place game

·3 min read

Jan. 23—PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Willard boys basketball team proved to be a force on the glass all game.

And the Tigers capitalized on their rebounding with a second-half surge to earn a 61-47 victory over Joplin in the fifth-place game of the Bill Hanson Memorial Tournament in Pittsburg.

"We didn't rebound," Joplin coach Bronson Schaake said. "We were up one (after the first quarter) and then we gave up three offensive rebounds on one possession (in the second quarter) and gave up two more, so that's five. We got it down to two in the third quarter, and I think we ran out of gas. We just couldn't seal it. We have to get better with our focus on the boards."

The Eagles got off to an encouraging start. Joplin overcame an early 16-11 deficit after All Wright hit a triple from the left wing and Always Wright executed an old-fashioned three-point play to propel the Eagles to a 17-16 lead at the end of the first period.

Willard grabbed the momentum the rest of the way, using a 13-6 spurt in the second stanza to take a 29-23 lead at the break.

The Tigers showed signs of pulling away immediately in the second half. Willard opened the third quarter with a quick 8-0 run capped by a breakaway layup from Trey Pulford to take a 37-23 lead at the 6:13 mark, forcing the Eagles to call a timeout.

Joplin's response?

A 19-4 run over the next 5 1/2 minutes as the Eagles cut the score down to 41-39 with 1:48 to play in the third quarter. Coming out of the timeout, the urgency to get back into the ballgame was apparent for Joplin as Always Wright drove through traffic and slammed home a two-handed dunk to get the Eagles going offensively.

"We don't need to get to that point," Schaake said. "That's the thing. It has to be where they start battling back before I call timeout. They have to find their own spark. We just got beat on effort plays. We can't let that happen. We have to fix it."

Willard finished out the quarter on a strong note with a corner trey from Pulford and a hook shot inside from Gavin Davis to build a 46-39 lead.

The fourth quarter was all Tigers as Davis accounted for 15 of his team's 25 points in the final frame to put the game away. Davis, a 6-foot-4 senior, fired in a game-high 34 points to lead Willard.

"He was active," Schaake said. "He was more active than our bigs. I thought Joe (Jasper) played with a lot of energy for us when we needed it. (Whit) Hafer had a better second half. (Davis) was just all over the place, attacking the rim and rebounding. He gave it to us.

"They move the ball and make you work for it. I thought we guarded well. We just didn't get the rebound here and there. That seemed to kill us more than anything. I think we made them look a lot better than what they should have, to be honest."

Always Wright scored 23 points to pace Joplin (12-4). All Wright tallied 16 points, while Terrance Gibson had 12.

The Eagles host Kickapoo on Tuesday.