Everyone in the arena called it an upset — except for the 15 players on the Ozark roster and their coaches.
Ozark dispatched rival Nixa 59-47 Wednesday night in the latest episode of a storied Christian County rivalry series. The win puts Ozark’s No. 4-seeded boys basketball team into the Gold Division championship final of the 71st annual Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament to be held Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at JQH Arena.
Junior Quinn Nelson scored 21 of his 25 points in the first half. Ozark (8-3) led by 12 points at the break, and carried its lead to the final horn to beat No. 1-seeded Nixa (8-1).
“We’re always confident,” Nelson said. “We’re not going to take any team lightly, so we’re not going to be afraid of any team either. We kind of went in with this attitude of, ‘No one thinks that we can win this game but us,’” Nelson said.
Ozark coach Mark Schweitzer echoed Nelson’s sentiments about self-confidence.
“They expected to win,” Schweitzer said of the Ozark players. “You don’t win games like that unless you believe in yourself, and they did that. It was evident in their play, I thought they were very confident.”
Ozark won a Blue and Gold title in 2014, but suffered a loss to Kickapoo in the 2015 Blue Division final. A win would mean the world to Nelson and his teammates.
“I just want to get that trophy, and I know we have some coaches that want this trophy as well, and every player does, so it means a ton,” Nelson said.
Nine different Ozark players scored. The Tigers got eight points from Payton Nichols and seven from Carter Burgess.
“Top to bottom, that was a team game and that’s what we pride ourselves on,” Schweitzer said.
Nixa coach Jay Osborne was disappointed with his team’s defensive efforts in the first half, especially with the way Nelson ran wild for four 3-pointers. In the second half, Ozark played more patiently and took longer possessions.
“We ran three different defenses and none of them worked. I thought in the second half we did a better job guarding them,” Osborne said. “They did a good job of playing keep away. We’re not a chasing team.”
Nixa will play Rogersville at 5:30 p.m. at JQH Arena Thursday in what Osborne hopes can be a turning point for the Eagles.
“We started the first six games of the year just lighting it up, making shots, loose, had a swagger to us. We come over here (to the Blue and Gold), and the three games we’ve had over here—we don’t have our swagger right now. I don’t know what’s happened,” Osborne said.
Unseeded Willard headed to the Gold’s biggest stage
Kenny Chambers drained an 18-foot jumper from the key with one second remaining in Willard’s 32-31 semifinal win over Rogersville (6-6).
In a game that harked back to a bygone era, both teams held the basketball for lengthy amounts of time, making points increasingly valuable as the game progressed. Chambers led all scorers in a game that ended after 10:30 p.m. with 11 points.
The Tigers (7-4) also got 10 points from senior forward Houston Johnson.
Willard becomes the first unseeded team since the 1995 Ava Bears to reach a Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament championship final.
Central Ozarks Conference foes collide when Willard and No. 4-seeded Ozark meet in the Gold Division final Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at JQH Arena.
71st annual Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament
Gold Division semifinals
At JQH Arena
Ozark 59, Nixa 47
Ozark 31-19 HALF, 41-34 END 3Q
Ozark—Quinn Nelson 25, Payton Nichols 8, Carter Burgess 7, Will Pickering 4, Brian Wacha 4, Parker Hanks 4, Noah Suiter 3, Cameron Robertson 2, Garrett Reinke 2
Nixa—Braeden Combs 17, Austin Bracker 8, Seth Viebrock 8, Nathan Elmer 7, Christian Bundy 4, Evan Bergmann 3.
Willard 32, Rogersville 31
Rogersville—Andrew Scott 10, Drew Ritter 7, Luke Vandersnick 4, Ryker Strong 4, Matthew McHenry 3, Jackson Von Behren 2, Jarrett Stiles 1
Willard—Kenny Chambers 11, Houston Johnson 10, Stone Jackson 4, Quintin Batson 2, Kobe Holloman 2, Sam Bird 2, Daniel Abreu 1.