In an attempt to negate Nixa’s considerable size advantage, Hillcrest spread its offense out to the four corners and tried to use its quickness for much of the game Thursday night.
The game plan was effective for more than three quarters, but late in the fourth when shots didn’t fall for Hillcrest, it was Nixa’s veterans who closed out the game for a 63-58 nonconference win.
“They don’t have a true post man and I’m not sure that’s bad, because they’re hard to guard,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said of Hillcrest.
“They can all take it off the dribble and get to the rim and they can all shoot the 3.
“They had some guys step up tonight and make 3s and what do you do as a coach? We had to find a way to win the game and that’s what we talked about in the fourth quarter.”
Hillcrest (5-3) was able to keep the game close by making 18 of 40 shots from the field, including 8 of 18 from beyond the arc, over the first three quarters.
But in the fourth period, the Hornets made just 4 of 14 from the field and went 1 of 7 from 3-point range.
“I thought they were a lot stronger than we are and when you keep driving and getting banged on and banged on, it’s hard to finish shots with no whistles,” Hillcrest coach John Schaefer said.
“When they are that much bigger and more physical than you are, your margin for error is very small.”
Hillcrest took the lead (50-49) on a rebound and putback by Hornets’ senior Roy Hardy less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Eagles’ senior Jalen Norman took the lead back for Nixa (6-1) on the next possession with a rebound and bucket for a 51-50 edge just 20 seconds later.
“Rebounding tonight was really important because they can shoot well and if you give them a second chance, then their confidence builds and that’s how they stayed in the game,” Norman said.
Bryce Dulin’s driving layup gave Nixa a 53-51 lead, and Austin Ruder’s running 10-footer from the right baseline put the Eagles up 55-51 with 5:16 remaining.
A layup in transition by Ruder, followed by a conventional three-point play, gave Nixa 60-56 lead with 2:44 to play.
Hillcrest was able to cut the lead again to two points (60-58) with 2:06 left, before Norman and senior Chan Hocklander sealed the win with free throws.
Ruder led Nixa with 21 points and Norman had 11 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
“We’re going to rely on those two guys all year and when they play well, then we’re going to play well,” Osborne said.
Hardy and senior Austin Petry led Hillcrest with 14 points each.