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Bulldogs bump off Bluff
POPLAR BLUFF -- The Notre Dame boys basketball team closed SEMO Conference play on a high note.
The visiting Bulldogs rallied from 10 points down in the first half to beat league-leading Poplar Bluff 56-47 on Friday night.
"This is a huge win, probably the biggest win of the season for us," Notre Dame senior guard John Unterreiner said. "It gives us so much momentum -- they just beat Sikeston. You can't compare scores, but our confidence is incredible right now."
Notre Dame improved to 14-8 overall and closed conference play at 4-3.
Poplar Bluff, also 14-8, fell to 5-1 in conference. The Mules had first place all alone, but now play at co-leader Charleston on Friday for at least a share of the title. Sikeston also has one league loss and two conference games remaining.
Poplar Bluff, which won a league game Thursday night at New Madrid County Central and again was without point guard Ben Knuckles due to illness, managed to roll out to a 30-20 lead with a 9-2 run toward the end of the second quarter.
"The tank was full when we jumped out to that 10-point lead, but we just weren't able to sustain it and made some mistakes," Poplar Bluff coach Lamont Frazier said. "There was an obvious difference from the team that played last night and the team that had two days to prepare."
While the Bulldogs could not find an offensive rhythm early against Poplar Bluff's man-to-man defense, a late first-half run pulled them within 30-25 at halftime. Austin Greer's buzzer-beating shot hit the rim and bounced high before falling through.
"It gave us some momentum going into halftime," Notre Dame coach Kevin Roberts said. "In the second half, we were a lot more patient offensively.
"This was the best defensive effort we've had this year, by far. We pressed, we rebounded, we contested every shot. They earned every bucket they got in the second half."
And the Mules didn't have many, scoring just 11 points in the third period and six in the fourth.
They led 38-31 when Notre Dame's pressure defense took its toll with a 9-0 run. Unterreiner hit a 3-pointer, Matt Helle scored off a rebound, then scored again on a nice feed from Nick Koeppel on a broken play. Unterreiner closed the spree with a steal and layin for a 40-39 lead.
Poplar Bluff scored to end the quarter, but Notre Dame opened the fourth with an 8-0 run. Greer, a 6-foot senior who was an all-stater last year, scored the first two baskets, one on a nice fake pass under the basket.
"I have to be really crafty for as tall as I am," Greer said. "There was a kid from New Madrid who said I was a trickster. His exact words were I was slick and a trickster."
Koeppel, a junior guard, hit two jumpers to close the run and push Notre Dame's lead to 48-41.
The Mules closed to 50-47 with 1:45 to play, but Notre Dame was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line down the stretch.
Greer led Notre Dame with 20 points.
"He's the best 6-foot post player I've seen," Roberts said. "Tonight, he was really looking to score. At times, we needed him to, and every big shot when we were down seven or eight, he brought us back within three or four and kept us in the ballgame."
Unterreiner added 14 points and Koeppel had 12 in addition to both harassing Poplar Bluff's Riley Raulston at the top of the Mules' offensive set in the second half.
Raulston, the Mules' scoring leader at 18.1 points per game, was limited to a season-low six. He had one big dunk on an inbounds play in the third quarter.
"Raulston's dunk was probably the coolest thing I've ever seen," Unterreiner said. "He was handling the ball mostly coming up against the press, and I think that wore him out a little bit. We challenged him every time coming up."
Koeppel, who didn't play in Notre Dame's loss to the Mules in the SEMO Conference tournament, matched Raulston's total for the night in the fourth quarter alone.
"I felt like I played one of my better games tonight," Koeppel said. "We didn't play bad the first half; I thought we just played a really good second half."
"He's by far our best on-the-ball defender," Roberts said of Koeppel. "And he made shots tonight, which makes him a really good player."
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:NOTRE DAME (56) -- Nick Koeppel 12, Alex Bader 3, John Unterreiner 14, Austin Greer 20, Joseph Tolbert 3, Matt Helle 4. FG 22, FT 9-12, F 17. (3-pointers: Bader 1, Unterreiner 1, Joe Tolbert 1. Fouled out: None)
POPLAR BLUFF (47) -- Greg Coble 5, Chris Kilgore 2, Jay Raulston 12, Todd Bullington 6, Riley Raulston 6, Jake White 5, Eljie Johnson 11. FG 18, FT 9-17, F 14. (3-pointers: R. Raulston 1, White 1. Fouled out: None)