Notre Dame hands first loss to Sikeston

Sunday, December 20, 2009
Notre Dame's Jacob Tolbert, center, comes down with the ball against Sikeston's JuQualin Wiggins on Friday at Notre Dame. (LAURA SIMON)

Jacob Tolbert was good, Liam Maher was clutch, and the Notre Dame defense was downright pesky.

Notre Dame got off to an early lead and held off Sikeston for a 66-61 victory Friday at Notre Dame. The loss was the first of the season for Sikeston (7-1).

The Bulldogs opened the game with a 7-0 run and held a 9-1 lead midway through the first, using both the inside presence of Tolbert and the outside shooting of Maher.

"It's definitely a big thing," Notre Dame coach Kevin Roberts said. "The first two minutes was so big to establish what we want to do. Realizing we can play with them, not only that but take a lead and hold on to that lead."

Notre Dame (4-3) held a 17-9 advantage after one, with Tolbert scoring eight of his game-high 19 points in the quarter.

"You knew they were going to guard and focus on him, but he didn't force," Roberts said. "He let the game come to him, and when he did that we were a much better team."

Tolbert knew the game was going to be rough.

"Try to go up strong," Tolbert said. "We knew it was going to be a physical night. I just tried to work the high post and make my move."

With the score at 23-13, Sikeston made its move. Will Holifield made a free throw, Corey Porter and Darryl Howard made back-to-back buckets and JuQualin Wiggins hit a basket and a free throw to cap a 9-0 run and cut Notre Dame's lead to 23-22.

"We got the ball where it was supposed to be," Sikeston coach Greg Holifield said. "Inside and outside. We picked up our pressure a little bit."

Will Holifield drained two 3-pointers to give Sikeston its first lead at 28-26 late in the second quarter.

Notre Dame's Matt Helle answered with a basket and a put back at the buzzer to give Notre Dame a 30-28 lead at halftime.

"We worked so hard on Wednesday about what they do and how to keep our intensity," Roberts said. "We know we can compete with them, even though we got flustered, we stuck to our game plan and executed well."

In the third quarter, Sikeston's Janeil Hatchett's layin pulled Sikeston within 36-35, but a timeout by Roberts and a 3-pointer by Maher gave Notre Dame a four-point margin.

Wiggins scored on a layin and Porter made a shot in the paint to draw Sikeston even, but Maher made a driving layin and Jacob Tolbert hit a free throw to give Notre Dame a 42-39 lead after three quarters.

Sikeston opened the fourth with two free throws by Porter and a basket by Wiggins for only its second lead of the game at 43-42.

The lead was short-lived.

Helle drained two free throws and Maher hit a 3-pointer to give Notre Dame a 47-43 lead.

Maher scored 12 of his 17 points the second half.

"He's getting better and better each game," Roberts said. "He knows he can play and he's showing it. His confidence is really high."

Maher said the Sikeston student section chanting about an early air ball gave him extra motivation.

"Saying the air ball stuff made me want to prove that I don't air ball every time," Maher said. "So I just wanted to shoot it, and it felt really good."

Wiggins' basket and free throw on a foul cut the lead to 47-46, but Notre Dame senior Nick Koeppel, who sat out the entire third in foul trouble, knocked down four straight free throws to give Notre Dame a five-point lead with a couple of minutes to play.

"We needed him to play in the fourth," Roberts said. "We needed him at the end to make free throws."

Notre Dame extended its lead to 60-51 on back-to-back baskets by Helle and Koeppel.

Will Holifield countered with a 3-pointer and Corey Porter, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half, hit three free throws to pull Sikeston within 61-57 with just over a minute to play.

Notre Dame's Alex Carroll knocked down two free throws to push the lead to 63-57 and all but seal Sikeston's fate.

Roberts said the win sent a message to his own team.

"It shows we can compete with anybody," he said.

Notre Dame 66, Sikeston 61

Sikeston 9 19 11 22 -- 61

Notre Dame 17 13 12 24 -- 66

SIKESTON (61) -- JuQualin Wiggins 16, Will Holifield 15, Corey Porter 16, Darryl Howard 6, Eli Jackson 4, Janeil Hatchett 2, Niquavious Dixon 2. FG 19, FT 20-33, F 23. (3-pointers: Holifield 4. Fouled out: Jackson, Holifield)

NOTRE DAME (66) -- Jacob Tolbert 19, Liam Maher 17, Matt Helle 13, Nick Koeppel 7, Alex Carroll 4, Luciano Starling 4, Dylan Essner 2. FG 19, FT 24-34, F 28. (3-pointers: Maher 3. Fouled out: Starling)

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