Poplar Bluff boys snap Notre Dame's streak

Sunday, February 14, 2010
Notre Dame's Dylan Essner works against Poplar Bluff' Eljie Johnson during their game Friday. (LAURA SIMON)

After 10 consecutive wins, the Notre Dame boys basketball team finally stubbed its toe Friday night.

And it was particularly irksome for Notre Dame coach Kevin Roberts that the Bulldogs stubbed themselves on the free-throw line.

Playing its final home game of the season, Notre Dame connected on just 6 of its 16 second-half free throws in a 57-55 loss to Poplar Bluff.

The game ultimately came down to a spinning shot in the lane by Poplar Bluff's Eljie Johnson that kissed off the glass and into the basket with 1.2 seconds left.

The shot, which came off an inbounds pass in the Notre Dame end with 6 seconds left, broke a 55-55 deadlock, deciding a game that had six lead changes alone in the fourth quarter.

And it was in that tight fourth quarter that Notre Dame misfired on 8 of its 14 free throws, which really bothered Roberts.

"I thought we were the better team tonight, but we just didn't convert free throws when it mattered," Roberts said.

Notre Dame (17-5) looked like it might avenge one of its four early season losses when a tight game throughout -- neither team led by more than six points -- looked to be breaking its way in the fourth quarter.

Poplar Bluff (17-5), which trailed 33-32 at halftime, took a 42-41 lead into the fourth quarter, but the momentum appeared to swing toward the Bulldogs when Mules senior center Jay Raulston picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in an 8-second span.

The fifth foul came with 6 minutes, 13 seconds left in the game when Raulston and Notre Dame's Matt Helle, who also had four fouls, vied for a rebound off a Poplar Bluff shot.

The 6-foot-7 Raulston departed with his team-high 13 points -- all came in the first half -- and Helle sank two free throws to complete a 6-0 run that moved Notre Dame ahead 47-42.

"I think we might have got a little too comfortable with it," said Notre Dame 6-7 junior Jacob Tolbert, who scored a game-high 23 points. "We kind of slacked off a little bit and stopped playing, stopped trying to attack. We just kind of threw it away."

The Bulldogs missed 5 of 6 free throws, launched a couple of quick shots that missed the mark and saw the 6-7 Helle foul out over the next two minutes.

"We just gave them the game at the end," Roberts said. "We were up five and Raulston had fouled out and we missed, I think, four straight free throws. A good team misses those free throws, a great team converts those free throws and goes up by nine and goes on to win that game, so we definitely took a giant leap back tonight. But I hope this motivates us to become a better team."

While the Bulldogs were sputtering at the line, Poplar Bluff moved ahead.

Jordan Marler capped a 5-0 spurt, which put the Mules ahead 49-48, when he sank a 3-pointer from the right corner with 4:08 left.

Notre Dame grabbed the lead two more times, the latter coming on a drive by Luciano Starling with 3:16 left that put the Bulldogs ahead 52-51. The Bulldogs led 53-51, but Poplar Bluff's Jordan Marler knotted the score with two free throws with 1:24 remaining.

Greg Coble, who scored six of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, sank an 18-foot shot from the left side on Bluff's next possession and the Mules led 55-53 with 33 seconds left.

Notre Dame senior guard Nick Koeppel tied the score at 55-55 with 18 seconds left when he drove the right side of the lane.

The basket set up the game-winner by Johnson, a 6-0 senior who weighs about 215 pounds. Johnson starred in the Mules' offensive backfield in football, and he used some of his power and spin moves on the Bulldogs.

After a timeout with 6 seconds left, Jake White inbounded the ball to Johnson, who drove into the lane from the top of the key.

"We were just going to try to stop penetration and he made a good move," Koeppel said. "He's strong. I was guarding him and I did my best, but he just kept on."

Johnson, who used a spin move during his drive, shot from about 6 feet out while still headed toward the basket.

"When coach had called timeout I was mad because I had beat my man," Johnson said. "When we were in the huddle I kept saying, get me the ball, get me the ball, get me the ball. And I got it. I didn't think I was going to get it, but I got it. And I did what I could with it."

"We guarded it," Roberts said. "He just made a good move and a good shot. We knew when Raulston went out somebody had to step up, and that was just a tremendous shot. You have to give them credit, but they should have never been in position to make that shot. We should have put that game away a long time ago."

Johnson, who finished with nine points, then intercepted the desperation inbounds throw to secure the win.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Poplar Bluff, which had lost to Sikeston and Central its last two times out.

Notre Dame, which normally shoots better than 70 percent at the line, will try to regroup and establish new momentum before district play, which begins in just more than a week.

"Coach said we're going to shoot a lot of free throws next week," Koeppel said.

Poplar Bluff15171015--57
Notre Dame1419814--55

POPLAR BLUFF (57) -- Kendric McCain 3, Greg Coble 12, Lee Abraham 2, Jay Raulston 13, Jordan Marler 7, Nick Shrum 4, Jake White 7, Eljie Johnson 9. FG 21, FT 13-18, F 19. (3-pointers: Marler 1, White 1. Fouled out: Raulston)

NOTRE DAME (55) -- Nick Koeppel 10, Liam Maher 3, Ke-Ke Kellum 2, Derek Landewee 4, Luciano Starling 4, Jacob Tolbert 23, Matt Helle 8, Dylan Essner 1. FG 18, FT 17-29, F 19. (3-pointers: Maher 1, Tolbert 1. Fouled out: Helle)

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