Nixa did what it could.
But playing short-handed against the top high school in the nation, the Eagles could only keep it close for so long.
Florida recruit Kasey Hill scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half, Kentucky recruit Dakari Johnson scored 18, and Montverde (Fla.) overpowered Nixa 78-61 Friday night in the semifinals of the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions at JQH Arena.
“They’re exactly like an AAU team you’d see in the summer,” said Nixa senior Austin Ruder, who has faced his share of top-level talent on the AAU circuit. “It’s a bunch of guys that come together to play basketball. But I was proud of our effort. I think we played hard the whole way through.”
Ruder scored 19 points for Nixa, including 11 in the third quarter. Younger brother Jacob Ruder added 11 while battling inside against the 6-foot-11 Johnson and 6-foot-8 West Virginia recruit Devin Williams.
But the Montverde lead was at double digits before the end of the first quarter. It reached 17 by halftime, and was 25 when Montverde coach Kevin Boyle pulled his starters midway through the third quarter.
Montverde (20-0) played 14 players, with 10 getting at least 10 minutes. Six Montverde players scored at least six points.
“He was very kind,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said of Boyle. “They played a lot of guys, and we were able to play a lot of guys as well. But we’ll try to find the positives in this and look forward to tomorrow. We have a chance to get two wins in this tournament, and that’s pretty special.”
Athan Lummis hit three fourth-quarter 3-pointers to finish with nine points, while Bryce Dulin had eight points and four rebounds.
The Eagles played without senior standout Jalen Norman, who injured his knee in Nixa’s first-round win over Mount Washington (Ky.) Bullitt East. Norman had an MRI on the knee Friday but won’t know the results of the test until sometime today.
Austin Ruder was also banged up against Bullitt East, suffering an injury to his left thumb. The senior played with his left hand taped up.
“We don’t want to come out here and get blown out by 30 or 40 points,” Ruder said. “I think we struggled some early on, but I thought our effort was really good in the second half.”
Hill was special from the opening tip, scoring 14 first-quarter points and missing just one shot in the first two quarters. He added four steals and three assists.
“I was just trying to get going, really, and be focused. Once I get focused, I can knock down shots,” Hill said. “I think we played really good defense. If we just lock up, our offense can go then.”
Nixa (13-2) will face Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco in today’s 6:30 p.m. third-place game. Montverde will take on Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI in the 8:30 p.m. championship.
After today’s final, Montverde could have a chance to become the undisputed No. 1 team in the country with a matchup Monday with Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep in Springfield, Mass.
Montverde came into the T of C as the No. 1 team in the nation according to ESPN while being ranked No. 2 in the USA TODAY Super 25.
“We didn’t really play that well (on Thursday), I thought we were a little tired,” Boyle said. “I think we’re starting to get re-energized in time for the final (today), and then for Findlay on Monday.”