Jalen Norman went down in a heap, and JQH Arena gasped.
In his absence, the Nixa Eagles came together.
Playing a near-perfect second half, the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions on Thursday night with a 62-53 win over Mount Washington (Ky.) Bullitt East.
Nixa (13-1) missed just four shots after halftime, going 11 of 15 from the floor, and hit 13 of their 17 free throws after the break.
“When you come into a tournament like this, you have to focus on what’s at hand,” senior guard Chan Hocklander said. “We all played well tonight, and we got the win.”
And after the first few possessions of the third quarter, the Eagles did their damage without Norman.
The senior Division I recruit went down with a right knee injury early in the third period after colliding with Kenucky signee Derek Willis as Willis drove to the basket. He spent the rest of the game on the Nixa bench with his knee wrapped in ice and left the floor on crutches.
“He’s out all weekend, unless a miracle happens,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “What a great win for our program. To do that without one of our best players is a credit to our guys. They came together without Jalen.”
Nixa did indeed without their four-year starter, putting four players in double figures and shooting 73 percent from the floor in the final 16 minutes.
The Eagles went on a 9-0 run immediately after Norman left the game, turning a nine-point lead into an 11-point advantage. The Nixa lead didn’t dip below five the rest of the way.
Chan Hocklander had a career-high 17 points to lead the way, Austin Ruder added 13 and Bryce Dulin finished with 10.
Norman had 15 points before his injury.
“I think we all knew we had to step up,” said sophomore Jacob Ruder. “It really unified us and we played really well the rest of the way.”
It was Ruder who spent much of the second half defending Willis as Nixa’s defense did enough to keep Bullitt East at bay.
Willis led Bullitt East (14-4) with 17 points and eight rebounds, scoring seven in the fourth quarter.
“Nixa was a good team, but I’m not going to lie, I underestimated them a little bit,” Willis said. “I thought they’d be just another team, but I thought they played real good, and I give credit to them.”
Rusty Troutman added 15 for the Chargers and Trey Rakes finished with 11. Bullitt East had one field goal the first four mintues of the third quarter as Nixa seized control.
Bullitt East will take on Little Rock Hall in today’s 6 p.m. consolation semifinal.
Nixa will face Montverde (Fla.) and its small army of major college recruits in tonight’s nationally televised 9 p.m. semifinal. The game will be shown on CBS Sports Network.
Montverde is the No. 1-ranked high school team in the nation according to ESPN and No. 2 in the USA TODAY Super 25. The Eagles (19-0) struggled with Little Rock (Ark.) Hall in the first half before pulling away for a 60-45 win.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Jacob Ruder said. “Our opponent is going to be great. But you still have to step on the court and play the game, so we’ll come out and give it our best.”
Bass Pro Tournament of Champions
* When: Today through Saturday
* Where: JQH Arena, Missouri State University
* TV: CBS Sports Network will carry the semifinals and finals live
* Tickets: Reserved seats are $12 each night. General-admission seats are $10 a day. Students are $7 a day. Call 836-7678 or 476-7849.