Go ahead and put to rest the rumors of the Nixa Eagles’ demise.
When senior Jalen Norman — by all accounts an NCAA Division I recruit — tore his MCL in the opening round of last week’s Bass Pro Tournament of Champions, many wanted to strip the Eagles’ Class 5 title hopes with it.
But one thing the 86th annual Nixa Invitational Tournament is proving is that Nixa is going to contend, with or without Norman.
“We can’t make up for not having Jalen’s athleticism, but we’ve got some guys that can pick up the scoring and rebounding,” said Missouri State signee Austin Ruder. “Make no mistake, our goals are still the same.”
Scoring doesn’t appear to be an issue as Nixa drubbed Hogan Prep 95-69 Friday night in the winner’s bracket semifinals, earning a berth in today’s 6:30 p.m. championship against Kickapoo.
Jacob Ruder led the Eagles with 20 points and Austin Ruder added 19 — the duo combined for 25 in the second half — and Bryce Dulin added 18 as the Eagles lit up the scoreboard in familiar fashion. Chan Hocklander added 13 for Nixa, which had nine players score in the contest.
Dulin was especially impressive, scoring 12 in the first half as the game was still tight and looked far more aggressive than earlier in the season.
“(Jalen’s) a great player and we are losing a lot with him,” Dulin said. “I tried to take it upon myself to fill in. Obviously, I can’t be a Jalen Norman, but I’m going to do what I can and try to attack the basket.”
To add to Nixa’s woes, Austin Ruder is hampered with a torn muscle in his left (non-shooting) hand that will likely last throughout the season and is clearly hurting his shooting touch. But Dulin seemed to pick up the slack until the senior could get untracked after an 0-for-8 start.
Austin Ruder’s second 3-pointer just before halftime gave Nixa a 41-35 lead. The Eagles clicked on all cylinders after halftime, opening up a 13-2 run out of the locker room to take command. Jacob Ruder scored 10 in the fourth quarter and added nine rebounds.
“I was really pleased with our second half,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “We found open people down low, we found them on the perimeter and we got their defense to rotate. I thought it was a really big second half.”
Amaad Wainright scored 21 points for Hogan Prep.
* Kickapoo 67, Willard 45: The Chiefs dominated the second and third quarters and cruised to the victory en route to tonight’s championship matchup with Nixa.
Interestingly, Kickapoo showed off a balanced attack that should make tonight’s game rather interesting.
Tyler Bussell led the Chiefs with 14 points, Jack Simpson scored 13 and Luke Thomas added 12 in the win.
“We’ve stepped up a lot lately,” Kickapoo senior Chris Ward said. “Getting (point guard) Tyson Batiste back has helped and Ryan Burland has stepped up and played well.”
Chris Kendrix scored 20 to lead Willard, which will play Hogan Prep for third place at 5 p.m. In the consolation bracket, Eugene beat Billings 75-65 and Mount Vernon downed Harrisonville 54-38.
Billings and Harrisonville play at 2 p.m. and Mount Vernon faces Eugene at 3:30.