Central boys basketball team beats Poplar Bluff for second consecutive district title

Sunday, February 26, 2012
Central's Vance Toole looks to pass the ball while pressured by Poplar Bluff's Lucas Tibbs during the second quarter of the Class 5 District 1 title game Friday, Feb. 24, 2012 in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

Central might have been considered a long shot to repeat after losing all but one starter from last year's district championship team.

The long shot came through in a landslide Friday night.

Top-seeded Central crushed second-seeded Poplar Bluff 58-28 in the Class 5 District 1 boys basketball final at Jackson High School.

"We really wanted to win another district championship," Central senior forward T.J. Tisdell said. "It feels great. All the hard work we put in during practice paid off."

Tisdell is the only player who received significant varsity minutes for the 2010-11 Central team that claimed the program's first district title since 1997.

That's part of the reason Central coach Drew Church was so proud of the Tigers' latest accomplishment.

Church emphasized that the Tigers improved immeasurably from the outset of the season, which made them district favorites as the campaign progressed.

"Coming into the season, we had one guy who had played much varsity basketball," said Church, whose squad is 21-6 after posting its seventh straight victory. "Each day they just learned more, kept getting better.

"They just want to win. They don't care who scores. It's not the most talented team I've had, but they work hard and listen. It's a special group, one of my favorite groups."

The 6-foot-6 Tisdell was solid with 13 points, although that's several points under his average.

"They doubled me and other players stepped up," Tisdell said.

Nobody stepped up more than senior guard Ross McClanahan, who saw infrequent varsity action while primarily playing with the junior varsity last year.

McClanahan, one of Central's more unheralded players, stepped into the spotlight with a game-high 17 points. That's the most he's scored in a varsity game.

"It feels good to be a big part of the team," McClanahan said. "It [the title] means a lot to Central as a whole."

McClanahan, who hit three of Central's four 3-pointers, scored nine points in the second quarter to help the Tigers begin to pull away. He tacked on eight points in the third quarter when Central broke open the game.

"My coaches told me to attack. My teammates found me, and I just knocked the shots down," McClanahan said.

Said Church: "We have to have players step up. Ross played with confidence and toughness, which is what we need. He had a big night."

Poplar Bluff (9-16), which already had lost to Central twice this season by 22 and 16 points, was content to use as much time as possible when it had the ball.

That strategy worked for a quarter. The Mules led 4-0 early and entered the second period tied 4-4.

Then it was all Central. The Tigers continued to suffocate Poplar Bluff with their defense while getting their offense going.

"It was a slow start, but we played very good defense," Tisdell said.

Tisdell's three-point play 43 seconds into the second quarter put Central ahead for good at 7-4.

The Mules answered to make it 7-6, but they then went scoreless for nearly seven minutes to end the period.

Central put up the final 13 points of the half, including the last seven by McClanahan, and led 20-6 at the break.

The Tigers quickly built a 20-point advantage in the third quarter. They outscored the Mules 20-9 in the period to lead 40-15.

"We came out in the second half with a lot of intensity," Tisdell said.

Central's lead never dipped under 23 points in the fourth quarter, and Church was able to clear his bench in the last few minutes.

"We knew that Poplar Bluff would play with a little chip on their shoulder after we had seen them twice," Central senior guard Vance Toole said. "We wanted to come out strong, and Ross stepped up big."

Poplar Bluff shot only 29.5 percent from the field (13 of 44) and just 23.3 percent over the first three quarters (7 of 30).

"Our defense pretty much won the game for us," Toole said.

Central shot 50 percent (16 of 32) and had a huge advantage at the free-throw line.

The Tigers connected on 22 of 29 from the charity stripe, including 12 of 13 during the fourth quarter.

Poplar Bluff, which rarely attacked the basket on offense, attempted just one foul shot all night and made it.

Central forced 15 turnovers, including 12 in the first three quarters. The Tigers committed just six turnovers through three periods and finished with 11.

"We played a good team game," Toole said.

Toole, who has been a solid floor leader for the Tigers after seeing limited varsity action last season, was asked to compare the two championships.

"Last year was fun and all, but T.J. was the only one who got a lot of legitimate playing time," he said. "This feels great."

Central moves on to Wednesday's 7:45 p.m. sectional matchup at the Farmington Civic Center against Christian Brothers College High School from St. Louis.

Second-seeded CBC (18-10) upset top-seeded, state-ranked Webster Groves 66-60 in Friday's District 2 final.

Poplar Bluff 4 2 9 13 -- 28

Central 4 16 20 18 -- 58

POPLAR BLUFF (28) -- Joseph Eyler 2, Michael Griggs 6, Kendric McCain 8, Stacey Gipson 8, Brandon Stuckenschneider 2, Chris Stocks 2. FG 13, FT 1-1, F 20. (3-pointers: McCain 1. Fouled out: none)

CENTRAL (58) -- Ross McClanahan 17, Vance Toole 6, Tim Booker 5, Devon Johnson 2, Garan Evans 4, T.J. Tisdell 13, Jamal Cox 7, Austin Bagley 2, Andre Statum 2. FG 16, FT 22-29, F 8. (3-pointers: McClanahan 3, Booker 1. Fouled out: none)

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