Central holds off rival Jackson for fifth

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Jackson was six inches from its third straight overtime game Monday, but Central held off the Indians' late surge for a 56-53 victory and a fifth-place finish in the seMissourian Christmas Tournament.

"This is big -- we had unfinished business to take care of and we took care of it tonight," said junior Mitch Craft, who finished with 11 points as fourth-seeded Central improved to 8-3.

Tyler McNeely had an open look at a 3-pointer that would have tied the game, but it fell short for the third-seeded Indians (5-4).

"Tyler had a good look and we had a tip out, but we just couldn't get that second look," Jackson coach Mike Kiehne said.

The final play of the game was reflective of the rest of the game for Jackson.

"We didn't hit some shots in key opportunities, and they did," Kiehne said. "And shot selection wasn't the greatest at times, either."

Central's man-to-man pressure defense frustrated the Indians and forced turnovers and hurried shots. Jackson turned the ball over 12 times opposed to Central's eight giveaways.

Jackson was patient on offense early and held a 13-8 lead at the start of the second quarter. But by halftime, fourth-seeded Central figured out Jackson's zone defense and led 32-29 at halftime.

"Early on at times we made good decisions, other times we didn't. But we started reversing the ball a lot better and communicating," Central coach Derek McCord said.

At the helm of the Tiger offense was guard Will Johnson, whose quick slashes through the paint caused problems for the Indians' zone.

"I don't care about the points; I just care about winning," said Johnson, who had 11 points.

Tyler Boyd and McNeely were active early for Jackson as Boyd had nine points at the break and McNeely had seven. But zero points for McNeely in the third prompted a challenge and a benching from Kiehne

"I tried to get the big guy to play. I wanted him to focus on the opportunities. If we get him going it really opens things up for us," Kiehne said.

In the fourth quarter, McNeely and Boyd each had six points as Jackson began to climb back into the game.

"We were only a few shots out of the game," Kiehne said.

Central was 6-of-9 from the free-throw line in the first three quarters but struggled late. The Tigers went 4-of-8 in the final quarter.

Jackson surged back and outscored Central 16-12 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough as McNeely and Brad Eaton failed to hit the tying shot.

Central had two players out for the game. Forward Michael Brown and guard/forward Anthony Harris did not play, which shortened the Tiger bench. But the front court for Central stepped up in their absence. Craft added six rebounds to his 11 points.

"Give a lot of credit to Mitch Craft; he played like a warrior out there," McCord said.

After Scott Chestnutt fouled out with about four and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, it left Craft with a tall task.

"I knew I had a lot on my shoulders, but I stepped up," Craft said.

Ryan Delph led Central with 12 points and Boyd finished with 15 to lead Jackson.

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