With injuries to key personnel making the Nixa High School boys basketball team more resemble a M*A*S*H unit than a three-time defending division champion, senior Logan Middleton has done his best to make up for what’s been lost.
On Friday in a Gold Division quarterfinal, Middleton posted his second consecutive 25-point game as the top-seeded Eagles beat Aurora, 73-48, in the 68th Blue and Gold Tournament at JQH Arena.
“Coach told me I’ve got to play a bigger role and I’ve got to be making buckets out there,” Middleton said. “So I’ve just had to shoot the ball more and it’s been going in for me.
“I like (the role-change) personally. I have my teammates to count on, but whenever I’m open, I like to take shots.”
Nixa, which plays at 7 p.m. today against Strafford, held a narrow, 38-31 lead early in the third quarter.
From there, Middleton and junior Jacob Ruder combined to spark a 14-0 run that put the Eagles comfortably in control (52-31).
Middleton’s 3-pointer from the left baseline and driving layup from the point started the run, which also included three straight baskets by Ruder from the post.
“Jacob had a big third quarter,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “We challenged him at halftime: get on the block, catch the ball, score and get to the free throw line and that’s what he did. So I’m pretty pleased.”
Ruder scored 13 points in the third quarter alone and finished with 23 points and a game-high 11 rebounds while Logan Middleton had nine of his 25 points in the fourth quarter for the Eagles.
“Logan has become a great threat outside, so now defenses can’t just collapse inside. It makes us a well-rounded team,” Ruder said.
“Tonight, we really tried to pound the ball inside because we had a big size advantage and we ended up finishing.”
Nixa (7-1) played without senior Bryce Dulin, who isn’t expected back until roughly mid-January, and senior Chris Bettis, who according to Osborne, “can hopefully play (today) or Monday.”
But Nixa was hit again with another key injury when the Eagles lost senior Wes Middleton in the second half against Aurora to an ankle injury and he never returned.
“We’ll watch it and see if it swells overnight, but Wes is a tough kid, if he’s able to play then he’ll play,” Osborne said.
Aurora trailed by five points (19-14) after the first quarter and saw its deficit double by halftime (36-26) and then double again after the third quarter (58-38).
“I was pretty pleased with the first half,” Aurora coach Daniel Cutbirth said.
“We did a good job with our execution and our post defense, but in the second half, they just killed us inside. They just pounded it and pounded it and they just killed us on the boards.
“They’ve got plenty of horses, and I think our horses wore out a little bit.”
Sophomore Josh Fronabarger led Aurora (4-3) with 13 points, and senior Garrett Bader had seven points and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
Chase Allen, a 6-6 sophomore who is also reaping the benefits of increased playing time, had eight points and seven boards for the Eagles.
“We’re just trying to put five healthy guys on the floor,” Osborne said.
“I don’t know if Chase Allen came out much tonight. Dawson Mills, Matt Thomas, they’ve been thrown into an environment where they are expected to play at a high level and I hope they continue to do so.”