Jackson's boys basketball team withstood a mighty test from visiting New Madrid County Central on Friday night and remained perfect at home with a 48-45 win.
The Indians improved to 20-4 overall and 8-0 at home. With the win, Jackson picked up its first 20-win season since 1998 when the Indians finished 21-6. That was also the last year Jackson won its district.
"It's great for our seniors," Indians junior guard Jack Puisis said. "They have worked so hard."
For Jackson coach Mike Kiehne, this is a long way from a 9-18 inaugural season in 2001. Kiethne has improved his record at Jackson from 23-30 heading into the season, to 43-34 heading into Tuesday's regular season finale.
"Coming from my first year of 9-18 to this year, and being 20-4 at this point, I feel really good," Kiehne said.
Jackson's 20th win did not come easy. After building a 35-22 halftime lead, the Indians managed only 13 points in the second half. NMCC (7-14) fought back in the second half and took its first lead since 4-2 at 45-44 with 1:55 left. But Jackson took the lead for good with 1:30 remaining.
"They just came out and pressured us, and we got out of sync," Puisis said.
The Eagles were able to drive more in the second half and get points on the inside. While struggling on offense in the first half, NMCC could not miss in the second.
Jackson had grabbed its biggest lead of the game at 38-22 early in the third when the Eagles made their move. They went on a 16-2 run that spanned into the early parts of the fourth quarter. Edgar Givens scored six points during that stretch and was a force inside.
"They hurt us down in the post, and they were getting us on the backdoor cut," Puisis said.
NMCC took a 43-42 lead on a 3-point play by point guard Malcom Long with 2:30 remaining. Jackson grabbed the lead back before Brandon Waters hit a short jumper to put the Eagles back on top at 45-44. Puisis hit the game-winner on a shot from the corner and hit two free throws with 20 seconds remaining to give Jackson a 48-45 lead.
After the Eagles took a timeout and inbounded with 13 seconds left, Brad Eaton nearly stole the ball for Jackson. NMCC recovered, but did not get off a good shot.
"Brad got a tip with 13 seconds left and made them force the shot," Kiehne said.
Jason Schafer led Jackson with 18 points and Puisis and McNeely had 10 apiece. Givens led NMCC with 16 points.