After yet another dominating performance by Nixa High School in the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament, the defending Blue Division champions will get a chance to defend its title.
Nixa showcased its defense, its depth and its ability to shoot lights-out in an easy 85-51 semifinal victory over West Plains on Friday.
“Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it looks, but our kids made it look pretty easy tonight,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said.
“We beat a quality team but we played extremely well too.
“Anytime you make shots, it takes care of a lot of problems and we also made our free throws tonight.”
Nixa will face Ozark in the Blue Division finals at 6 p.m. today at JQH Arena.
Nixa (9-1) jumped out to a 15-2 lead after the first three minutes and led 26-13 with 1:25 left in the first quarter after back-to-back 3-pointers from senior Chan Hocklander.
But in the second quarter, the Eagles caught fire and built an insurmountable lead.
Nixa made 11 of 16 shots from the field and forced eight turnovers in the decisive second period, stretching a nine-point lead (26-17) to 30 points (56-26) by halftime.
“I can’t find much wrong with the first half,” Osborne said.
“In the first half, I thought that we were as good as we’ve been all year and I’m really proud of the kids.
“We were ready to play, I thought we had great energy and we made shots.”
Senior Austin Ruder started the second quarter onslaught with a basket in the paint followed by a 3-pointer from the right wing for a 31-17 lead.
Nixa junior Bryce Dulin picked it up from there with a 3-pointer from the top of the key followed by a rebound and putback 30 seconds later, and the Eagles led 38-17 with 5:15 left in the first half.
“I missed my first couple of shots, but I just kept believing and I knew I was going to knock some down,” Dulin said.
“I knew my teammates would hit me if I’m open so I just worked to get open.”
Nixa senior Jalen Norman finished the quarter scoring eight points as the Eagles ran away from the Zizzers.
“Our kids are playing with a lot of confidence,” Osborne said. “We’ve got some talented players, yes, but they’re also unselfish and they’re confident.
“They’re not arrogant, they’re confident and that results in some good basketball.”
Dulin pointed to the Nixa defense as key to sparking the Eagles’ hot shooting.
“Turnovers helped us get started on the offensive end, pushing the tempo,” Dulin said. “Once we got stops on defense, that led to layups on offense.”
Osborne echoed Dulin’s credit to the Eagles’ effort on the defensive end of the court.
“We’re long and quick and we present problems in the passing lanes and I thought our ball pressure tonight was really good,” Osborne said.
“West Plains’ guards have been playing really well the past few days, I thought we had them slowed up a little bit and hesitant in what they wanted to do; we disrupted them.”
Ruder and Norman led Nixa with 17 points apiece, and Dulin chipped in 15 points in the win.
Norman and Ruder become 17th and 18th players in Blue and Gold history to hit the career 200-point mark.
Ruder now has 227 points and Norman has 218 with one tournament game left to play.