Central boys basketball team falls to Poplar Bluff

Saturday, January 26, 2013
Poplar Bluff defender Lance Gray tries to steal the ball from Central’s Jamal Cox in the second quarter on Friday in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

Once again, the Central boys basketball team had a SEMO Conference foe there for the taking, but simply couldn't close the deal.

Friday night, it was Poplar Bluff that invaded Central's home floor and drove off with a hard-fought 74-69 victory behind 14 points from junior guard Ryan Brittingham, who hit a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to stunt a couple Tiger rallies.

The loss, which dropped the Tigers to 10-7 on the season, left coach Drew Church shaking his head.

"Mental blocks," Church said. "We seem to go into funks, and forget where to go, kind of lose our minds. That's what hurting us right now."

If Church was having problems deciphering how his team could shoot 60 percent from the field (27 of 45) for the game yet still face an uphill battle, he need only look at the turnovers. Central turned the ball over 17 times to Poplar Bluff's six. The Mules scored 12 times following Central turnovers to the tune of 24 points.

"Turnovers are killing us," Church said. "For the year, we're shooting 50 percent from the field to our opponents' 35 percent. When those percentages are like that and you're losing, something's killing you.

"And right now it's turnovers."

Things played out Central's way early. The Tigers were able to get Stacy Gipson, Poplar Bluff's lanky 6-foot-6 junior center, in foul trouble early. Gipson went to the bench following his second foul just 4 minutes, 17 seconds into the game, and the Tigers took advantage, running to a 19-15 lead after the first period.

Central led 26-17 before the Mules (13-3) mounted a comeback. A basket by sophomore guard Joseph Eyler (13 points) following a Central turnover pulled Poplar Bluff within 29-26 with 3:30 left in the first half. After Central's Andre Statum converted a three-point play to make it 32-26, Poplar Bluff closed the quarter with a 10-1 run -- including a late 3-pointer by Brittingham -- to take a 36-33 halftime lead.

"That definitely gave us some momentum," said Poplar Bluff coach Will Durden. "We really hadn't done anything before that."

Central opened the second half with an 8-1 run to establish a 41-37 lead, then built it to five points when freshman guard Al Young pulled up on a drive in the lane and hit a floater that made it 47-42.

Back came the Mules, as five Poplar Bluff players scored during a 12-0 run -- capped by a Brittingham 3-pointer -- that put the Mules on top 53-47 late in the third.

"He's a shooter," Durden said about Brittingham. "Either it goes in or it misses bad. But he picked his spots tonight, and the guys did a good job of going to the hot hand."

"Anyone on our team can step up in that situation," Brittingham said. "I was just the one that got open."

Central didn't cave. Trailing 53-50 entering the fourth quarter, the Tigers decided to get the ball inside to 6-foot-6 Jamal Cox, and the junior forward responded by scoring 11 of his game-high 20 points in the final quarter going against Gipson, who picked up his fourth foul with 3:12 to play and his team leading by just three at 68-65.

"I've just got to make smarter plays," Gipson said about staying out of foul trouble. "I just had to play good defense. I couldn't worry about blocked shots, because I was in foul trouble."

Trailing 68-65, the Tigers had a chance to tie after Brittingham miss-fired on a 3-pointer, but Cox couldn't convert on a drive in the lane. Following another Poplar Bluff miss, Mikey Jones -- playing in his second game back after tooth surgery -- missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Mules controlled the rebound.

"We've just got to play as a team and play as a family," Jones said. "We can get it together as a team. We've got to play hard, come to practice every day and take it serious."

Despite missing 4 of 6 free throws in the final minute, Poplar Bluff was able to maintain its advantage as Central could manage just two shots over the final 1:28.

"In the first quarter, we took shots we really hadn't taken before," Durden said. "We took lots of outside shots. And if they're not going in, you lose your edge on defense. In the second half, we went back to what we did all year, pressing full-court a bit, and that helped us on defense."

Church noted that Central's youth -- the Tigers have just two seniors, guard Garan Evans and reserve forward Marcus Dixon -- has been a factor in close game, but he refused to use it as an excuse.

"Some of it is inexperience, but we can't play that card now," he said. "We seem to get in a hurry, and try to do things we can't do. We just have to keep working, and try to fix those things."

Poplar Bluff15211721--74

POPLAR BLUFF (74) -- D'Marcus Patterson 7, Joseph Eyler 13, Lucas Tibbs 6, Ryan Brittingham 14, Stacy Gipson 10, Brandon Stuckenschneider 7, Chris Stockes 7, Logan Keeny 4, Lance Gray 6. FG: 28, FT: 12-26, F: 21. (3-pointers: Brittingham 4, Eyler 1, Stockes 1. Fouled out: none)

CENTRAL (69) -- Sentrell Blackmon 10, Al Young 7, Garan Evans 11, Jamal Cox 20, Mikey Jones 8, Andre Statum 11, Marcus Dixon 2. FG: 27, FT: 13-25, F: 23. (3-pointers: Young 1, Evans 1. Fouled out: Evans)

JV: Central won 56-55.

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