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Tigers win in battle of young guns
SIKESTON, Mo. -- It has been a while since the Central and Notre Dame boys basketball teams have both been so inexperienced.
That has been apparent through the early stages of the season as the Tigers and Bulldogs have experienced their share of growing pains.
But that didn't prevent the Cape Girardeau rivals from putting on their usual entertaining show Friday night.
Third-seeded Central pulled away from a halftime tie to beat the fifth-seeded Bulldogs 54-43 in the third-place game of the SEMO Conference tournament.
"They got a young team just like us," Central junior forward Jamal Cox said.
Notre Dame, which lost all five regulars from last season, starts four sophomores.
Among Central's top eight players, only two had appeared in a varsity game before this season.
"I talked to Kevin before the game," Central coach Drew Church said of Kevin Roberts, his Notre Dame counterpart. "We are in the same boat. We're both very young. We both have to be really patient."
Little separated Central (3-2) and Notre Dame (1-3) on the scoreboard for much of the contest at the Sikeston Field House.
"It's always a good game when we play them," said Church, whose squad lost to Notre Dame by eight points in last year's SEMO Conference tournament third-place game and also fell to the Bulldogs by two points later in the season.
Friday's first half featured four lead changes and two ties. Notre Dame's biggest advantage was four points. Central never led by more than three points.
A follow shot at the second-quarter buzzer by Central junior forward Mikey Jones forged a 25-25 deadlock at the break.
"Both teams played hard. I thought both teams played pretty good defense," Roberts said. "It came down to making shots."
Central made more in the second half as the Tigers outscored the Bulldogs 29-18.
"We made a couple of adjustments at halftime. We slowed it down and got better shots," Church said.
But Church thought the biggest second-half difference was the Tigers' defense.
"What won us the game was our defense. I thought in the second half we really guarded them well," Church said.
Jones scored on a drive to the basket to begin the third quarter, putting Central up 27-25. The Tigers never relinquished the lead.
Central hit Notre Dame with a 9-2 run at the outset of the period -- seven of the points coming from freshman guard Al Young -- to open up a 34-27 advantage.
It was 38-33 entering the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 39-35 early in the period but Central gradually pulled away. The Tigers' biggest lead was 13 points.
"We had a good second half. It was a little sloppy in the first half," Cox said.
The 6-foot-6 Cox led all scorers with 19 points as he continues to emerge into one of the region's top inside players. Cox scored 57 points in the three tournament games.
"We're young but coach said we're starting to look like a basketball team," said a smiling Cox.
Young, who exudes quickness and potential, added 16 points for the Tigers as he wrapped up a strong tournament that saw him score 37 points while handling the ball well.
"It feels good, coming from eighth grade to the varsity," Young said. "It took me a while to catch on."
Church believes Young can go a long way if he continues the work ethic that he has already displayed.
"He's got really good basketball instincts," Chuch said. "He's still a little rough around the edges but his effort is there. The sky's the limit for him."
Jones also provided an offensive lift for Central with eight points.
Sophomore forwards Trenton Schumer and Tanner Shively paced Notre Dame with 14 and 10 points, respectively.
The Bulldogs hurt themselves by making just 7 of 19 free throws compared to 17 of 24 for Central. Notre Dame was 5 of 14 from the line in the second half.
"I keep saying we're better shooters than what we're showing," said Roberts, whose squad struggled from the field as well as the charity stripe. "Our effort keeps us in games. But eventually you have to make shots."
Church, whose team lost by nine points to eventual tournament champion Sikeston in Thursday's semifinals, had few complaints about Central's tournament play.
"I'm very happy," Church said. "Win or lose, we just have to keep building. We'll be a lot better team by the end of the year."
Central and Notre Dame will play at least one more time this season. They could also square off at the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament and at the Class 4 District 1 tournament.
CENTRAL (54) -- Al Young 16, Garan Evans 5, Jamal Cox 19, Mikey Jones 8, Andre Statam 4, Marcus Dixon 2. FG 18, FT 17-24, F 17. (3-pointers: Statam 1. Fouled out: none)
NOTRE DAME (43) -- Cody Debrock 3, Quinn Poythress 6, Jordan Williamson 1, Patrick Williamson 2, Luke Mocherman 2, Trenton Schumer 14, Grant Ressel 4, Jordan Barber 1, Tanner Shively 10. FG 17, FT 7-19, F 21. (3-pointers: Debrock 1, Schumer 1. Fouled out: none)