Central boys basketball team falls to Sikeston in the SEMO Conference Tournament semifinals

Friday, December 7, 2012
Central’s Andre Statam tries to shoot between Sikeston’s Reese Porter, left, and Zach Jackson during the second quarter of their SEMO Conference Tournament semifinal game Thursday in Sikeston, Mo. Sikeston won 61-52. (Fred Lynch)

Slow start dooms Tigers in 61-52 loss to Sikeston in Thursday's semifinals

By Marty Mishow

Southeast Missourian

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Central coach Drew Church probably wishes his team could take away the first quarter.

That, of course, isn't possible -- but it might have given the Tigers a chance to pull off a major upset.

Central’s Jamal Cox takes a shot against Sikeston’s J.T. Jones during the first quarter of their SEMO Conference Tournament semifinal game Thursday in Sikeston, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

Central dug itself a 15-point hole after the opening period of Thursday night's second semifinal at the SEMO Conference boys basketball tournament.

The third-seeded Tigers outscored second-seeded Sikeston the rest of the way but could not make up the early deficit in a 61-52 loss.

Host Sikeston advances to today's 8:30 p.m. title contest against top-seeded Charleston, the defending champion. Central will play fifth-seeded Notre Dame for third place at 7 p.m.

"We came out and they punched us in the nose," said Church, whose squad fell to 2-2. "As young a team as this is. ... to be honest, we kind of knew it would be coming."

Sikeston (5-0), the state's top-ranked Class 4 squad, stunned the inexperienced Tigers early with its trademark pressure defense.

Central's Garan Evans is fouled while shooting between Sikeston's Jairius Ray, left, and J.T. Jones during the first quarter of the SEMO Conference tournament semifinal Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 in Sikeston, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

Central committed nine first-quarter turnovers as Sikeston, which led wire to wire, built a 20-5 advantage by the end of the period. It was 9-2 just minutes into the game.

"They shot the heck out of it. They really shot it well," Church said. "It kind of put us on our heels as well as they shot the ball in the first half."

The Bulldogs built a 36-12 advantage in the second quarter as it looked like they might run Central out of the gym early.

But the Tigers cut the deficit to 36-17 by the end of the opening half, getting close enough to at least give them hope.

"We got off to a great start. I thought we played well the first quarter and a half. We built a great lead," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "I thought we lost our intensity, took some bad shots [in the second half]."

Central still trailed 48-31 entering the fourth quarter but wouldn't let the Bulldogs rest easy.

The Tigers scored the first eight points of the final period in less than two minutes as they sliced the deficit to 48-39.

"I'm proud of the young guys for bringing us back," said Central junior forward Jamal Cox, one of just two returning players with varsity experience. "It was a hard-fought game. They're a good team."

Central pulled within nine points four other times but could not get any closer.

"I knew they would not go away. They never do," Holifield said. "Overall I thought our kids did some good things."

Church knows the Tigers are going to have plenty of rough spots, especially early. Facing a tough and talented team like Sikeston will only make Central better.

"We did some good things that we can build on," Church said. "One thing that fires me up, we were down 20 and it forced our guys to really work hard and play better.

"It's early and we'll get better. Out of our top eight, six have never played a varsity game [before the season]."

Freshman guard Al Young led Central with 17 points, all over the final three quarters.

"It's hard going from the eighth grade to the varsity level," Church said. "Al works hard. He's going to be a good player."

Cox scored 13 points for the Tigers and senior guard Garan Evans added 10.

But Central had no answer for rugged junior forward J.T. Jones, who poured in 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

The burly 6-foot-3 Jones did most of his work around the basket but also stepped outside to hit three 3-pointers.

"He had a great game. He's a tough kid. He's a workhorse," Church said. "Now he's added the outside game."

Senior guards Markeith Bratcher and Vashawn Ruffin added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Bulldogs.

Cox said Central, which committed 26 turnovers to 10 for Sikeston, is looking forward to getting back on the court in today's third-place game against rival Notre Dame.

"We're young. We've got to work on a lot of things," Cox said.

Central5121421--52
Sikeston20161213--61

CENTRAL (52) -- Al Young 17, Garan Evans 10, Jamal Cox 13, Braion Owens 1, Mikey Jones 4, Andre Statam 3, Marcus Dixon 4. FG 16, FT 18-28, F 15. (3-pointers: Evans 2. Fouled out: none)

SIKESTON (61) -- Zach Jackson 8, Jairius 5, Vashawn Ruffin 10, J.T. Jones 27, Markeith Bratcher 11. FG 24, FT 7-13, F 23. (3-pointers: Jackson 2, Jones 3, Bratcher 1. Fouled out: none)

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