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Central reaches championship game of Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament
Jamal Cox was disappointed with his performance the previous night.
Cox made up for it in a big way against one of Central's biggest rivals.
Cox dominated inside to lead the second-seeded Tigers past third-seeded Notre Dame 70-57 in Saturday's semifinals of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament at the Show Me Center.
Central (6-3) earned a berth in the finals for the first time since 2009. The Tigers will shoot for their first Christmas Tournament title since 1996 when they play top-seeded, defending champion Charleston at 6:30 p.m. today.
"It's real exciting," Central senior guard Garan Evans said. "Central hasn't been in it in a while."
Cox, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, is Central's leading scorer and rebounder with averages of about 19 points and 10 rebounds per game. He got into early foul trouble and scored just seven points Friday, although the Tigers handily beat Advance in the quarterfinals.
Notre Dame (5-6) had no answer for Cox, who avoided foul problems and had his way with 28 points. All came within a few feet of the basket.
"I think I stepped up and did pretty good," Cox said in something of an understatement.
Central coach Drew Church said Cox can be a dominant player if he learns to be more consistent.
"He really bounced back tonight," Church said. "He's got to learn how to play hard every single play. Once he does that he can be really good."
Cox had arguably the individual highlight play of the tournament so far, rising up for a one-handed dunk in traffic midway through the third quarter to give Central a 41-31 lead.
"I had to get some kind of energy going for my team," Cox said with a smile.
Cox had 11 of the Tigers' 20 third-period points as they expanded a 32-26 halftime advantage to 52-40. Central then broke things wide open by scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter to go ahead 59-40.
"Our kids battled. I'm proud of them," Church said. "We're excited to be in the finals. It's a great opportunity."
Evans also came up big Saturday with 20 points, 13 in the first half. Evans scored 21 points against Advance.
"He's playing well," Church said. "Being one of our seniors, we need him to be a leader."
Evans is Central's only senior starter and one of just two seniors on the squad.
"I'm just trying to do what I can do, play hard and make plays at the right time," Evans said.
Sophomore forward Andre Statam and freshman guard Al Young added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Tigers.
Notre Dame was paced by sophomore forward Trenton Schumer with 12 points. Senior guard Cody Debrock and sophomore guard Grant Ressel added 11 each. Sophomore guard Quinn Poythress contributed 10.
Central had already beaten Notre Dame 54-43 on Dec. 7 in the third-place game of SEMO Conference tournament in Sikeston.
The Tigers wasted little time grabbing control in Saturday's rematch as they scored the game's first 13 points -- seven by Evans and four by Cox.
"It felt real good because Notre Dame plays hard and they won't quit," Evans said of getting off to such a strong start.
Before the Bulldogs knew what hit them, they found themselves in a big hole less than four minutes into the contest.
"We really wanted to come out with some intensity," Church said. "We wanted to punch somebody in the nose right away. We did that."
Notre Dame fought back valiantly but never got closer than six points, which was the halftime deficit at 33-27.
The Bulldogs were still hanging around, trailing 43-37 in the third quarter, when the Tigers scored nine straight points go go up 52-37. It was 52-40 after three and 59-40 just minutes into the final period.
Notre Dame cut the deficit to 10 points but by that time less than 30 seconds remained.
"When you dig yourselves a hole like we did it's hard to come back," Notre Dame coach Kevin Roberts said. "Cox is strong, he's big, he's athletic."
While Central tries to upset Charleston today, Notre Dame will play fifth-seeded Jackson for third place at 5 p.m. The Bulldogs rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit to beat the Indians 64-59 in the opening round of the SEMO Conference tournament on Dec. 3.
NOTRE DAME (57) -- Cody Debrock 11, Quinn Poythress 10, Jordan Williamson 3, Patrick Williamson 2, Trenton Schumer 12, Grant Ressel 11, Jordan Barber 4, Tanner Shively 4. FG 19, FT 11-15, F 25. (3-pointers: DeBrock 3, Poythress 2, J. Williamson 1, Schumer 2. Fouled out: Ressel.)
CAPE CENTRAL (70) -- Al Young 10, Garan Evans 20, Jamal Cox 28, Andre Statam 11, Marcus Dixon 1. FG 24, FT 22-32, F 14. (3-pointers: None. Fouled out: None.)