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Central boys basketball team reaches semis of SEMO Conference tournament
SIKESTON, Mo. -- There were small mishaps along the way, but a young and inexperienced Central Tiger team found a way to escape with a win.
The Tigers pulled out a narrow 59-54 win against New Madrid County Central during the SEMO Conference Tournament on Tuesday night.
Central will take on the tournament's No. 2 seed, Sikeston, in a Thursday semifinal at 8:30 p.m.
Jamal Cox, one of just two returning players with varsity experience, led the Tigers with 25 points and nine rebounds. Marcus Dixon, a varsity rookie, chipped in 14 points and seven rebounds.
"They're going to get lost," Central coach Drew Church said of his team's lack of experience. "Hopefully we can play hard enough to overcome those mental mistakes. Tonight, I felt we did that in the second half."
Despite small hiccups in the last two quarters, Central, the tournament's third seed, mimicked a seasoned crew at times making sure Cox had his chances under the basket when they needed him the most.
Cox, a 6-6 junior, scored 16 points in the second half, including a go-ahead score with two minutes left to put the Tigers ahead 52-51.
"We definitely need to go inside to Cox," said Church. "Marcus [Dixon] has never played varsity basketball either, but we need to go inside first and look for that."
Although he lacks the playing time, Dixon pitched in late in the game as well.
The 6-2 senior hit the layup that put Central up for good, 54-52, with 1:12 remaining.
A free throw by Al Young, a stick-back by Cox and two more free throws from Young within the last minute sealed Central's victory.
"Knowing where the ball's supposed to go, where a cut is supposed to be, little things like that are where we lack," Church said. "But, I told them that we're going to make mistakes. If we have effort and still make mistakes and I can deal with that."
Central's lack of experience and intensity showed in the first half as NMCC jumped to a quick 7-0 lead.
Eventually, Cox put the Tigers on the board and scored their first seven points.
Central was down 15-10 at the end of the first quarter and 26-21 at the half.
A swarming defense turned the tide for Central, leading to its first lead of the game halfway through the third quarter when a steal by Mikey Jones led to an offensive putback by Dixon to give the Tigers a 34-33 advantage.
From that point, there were six lead changes and five ties until Central pulled away late.
"We wanted to come out and be aggressive defensively. We didn't do that the first half," Church said. "I couldn't understand why. So, we had a good talk -- a really good talk -- at halftime, and in the second half we guarded a little better. We didn't play scared and we attacked."
The Eagles were led by sophomore Willie Jimerson who scored a game-high 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field.
NMCC (54) -- Willie Jimerson 29, Armondo Thatch 4, Jashawn McDaniel 2, Delontre Haney 9, Asten Newsom 6, Darrin McGlosin 4. FG 21 FT 9-12 F 18. (3-pointers: Jimerson 3. Fouled out: none.)
CENTRAL (59) -- Al Young 4, Garon Evans 5, Jamal Cox 25, Braion Owens 2, Mikey Jones 7, Andre Statam 2, Marcus Dixon 14. FG 24 FT 9-15 F 14. (3-pointers: Evans 1, Jones 1. Fouled out: none.)
Consolation semifinal Jackson 64, Dexter 38
Jackson jumped to a 20-4 lead after one quarter and never looked back in defeating Dexter.
Brandon Leuders led a balanced Indians scoring attack with 12 points.
D.J. Dowdy topped Dexter with 17 points.
DEXTER (38) -- Nick Noble 5, Austin Richardson 2, DJ Dowdy 17, Austin Aldridge 2, Brad Potts 10, Devin Hampton 2. FG 15. FT 5-6. F 8. (3-pointers: Noble 1, Dowdy 2. Fouled out: none.)
JACKSON (64) -- JD Daume 3, Blake Reimann 3, Braxton McDowell 2, Josh Friess 6, Braden Wendell 9, Skyler Steele 5, Karson King 7, Conner Sheppard 2, Blake Reynolds 9, Brandon Leuders 12, Luke Stevens 6. FG 24. FT 7-9. F 10. (3-pointers: Daume 1, Reimann 1, Friess 2, Wendell 2, Steele 1, King 1, Stevens 1. Fouled out: none.)