Jalen Norman returned, and the Nixa Eagles played like he never left.
With their full array of weapons finally available, the Eagles shook off a slow start and rolled to an 89-58 win over Little Rock (Ark.) McClellan Friday at the Ozark Mountain Shootout.
“I must be getting spoiled in my old age,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne joked. “We played pretty sloppy, and scored 89.”
Nixa (4-0) finished the night with 17 turnovers and led just 13-10 after one quarter. But the Eagles scored 27, 26 and 23 points over the next three periods to down a McClellan team featuring four players receiving interest from Division I basketball programs.
Norman, the senior guard being recruited by a handful of Division I schools himself, had 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in his first action of the season. He sat out the Eagles’ first three games for disciplinary reasons.
But he got the start Friday, playing most of his 27 minutes at a guard position.
“I was, maybe not nervous, but I was really excited,” Norman said. “Within the first two minutes, I was tired. But I pushed through it and we got the win.”
Norman was just one part of a diverse Nixa attack that saw five players score in double figures and a sixth score nine points.
Austin Ruder had a game-high 25 points to go with six rebounds, Carney Wilmes came off the bench to score 12, Jacob Ruder had 11 points and eight boards and Wes Middleton added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Bryce Dulin, who had been starting in Norman’s place, came off the bench for nine points.
“You can practice all you want, but it takes a little while to get the (nerves) out of you,” Osborne said of Norman’s return. “But I thought he did a good job. He played well. But we had a lot of kids who played well.”
Nixa shot 58 percent from the floor, out-rebounded McClellan 41-32 and held the Crimson Lions to 35 percent shooting. McClellan attempted 70 shots to Nixa’s 50.
But after a 16-2 Nixa run to open the second quarter made the score 29-12, the Crimson Lions got no closer than 10 points over the final 20 minutes.
Jason Hendrix, Kelechi Kingsley, Maxwell Omili and Nnamdi Collins — the four McClellan players getting college interest — were held to a combined four points.
Derrick Hardy led McClellan with 17 points and seven rebounds. Davion Givens added 11 points while Terrance Jones finished with 10.
“We just had to get back in transition because they wanted to get out and run,” Norman said.”
Nixa now gets its biggest test of the early season tonight. The Eagles will take on Blue Valley Northwest (Kan.) in the HyVee Shootout in Kansas City.
Blue Valley Northwest is the top-ranked team in Kansas’ largest class, having finished as the Kansas 6A runner-up each of the last three seasons. The Huskies feature junior guard Clayton Custer, a four-star recruit who has already committed to Iowa State and was an AAU teammate of Ruder and Norman.
“We’re in for a heck of a game,” Osborne said. “They have strong guards, good shooting guards, and they play pressure defense.
“We went up there two years ago and got embarrassed by Wichita Heights,” Osborne continued. “And we’ve got some kids in our locker room who remember that. They want to try and make it right.”