Ozark High School senior Bridget Justis knocked down a 3-pointer to beat the first-half buzzer Monday night in a Central Ozark Conference Large Division game against Branson.
It was just one shot in the second quarter, but Branson coach Kip Bough said he’s seen too many like it lately, as his team dropped the second of a two-game Christian County swing, 52-39.
“I can’t tell you how many times kids have hit shots at the end of halves or quarters on us,” Bough said. “(Nixa) did it the other night. (Ozark) did it tonight. I don’t know that it’s a momentum changer, but if you’re down one at the half instead of four, it might be something.”
It gave the host Lady Tigers a four-point cushion after a half in which they probably didn’t deserve it. It also gave coach Yancey Little’s team extra bounce in its step heading to the locker room.
Ozark (15-6, 3-0) then scored five straight to open the second half, and 117 seconds of game action after the teams were tied, the Lady Tigers had a 32-23 lead.
Senior Haylee Beard, who led a balanced attack with 13 points, acknowledged her point guard’s 3-pointer as a game changer.
“It definitely picked us up,” Beard said. “I love it when (Justis) shoots the ball, she doesn’t shoot it enough. And when she shoots it, and it goes in, it is always nice.
“It definitely built the team up, it was a great way to end the half, and gave us a little motivation for the second half, which is great.”
Branson (14-8, 1-2) then went cold, shooting 6 of 26 (23 percent) from the field after halftime, including a more than 5-minute stretch of the fourth quarter without a field goal.
“I don’t know if we pressed or something, but the shots didn’t go,” Bough said.
Branson has shown it can play with the top teams in the COC, but Ozark showed Monday it’s still higher in the conference’s pecking order.
“Last year, we played them and beat them by one with two free throws in the last 10 seconds of the ball game,” Little said. “We were pretty lethargic early on. We missed some easy baskets and some free throws, and never did get in the flow.
“Luckily, in the second half, we started to hit some shots. And when we can do that, we’re pretty decent. And if not, we have got to grind them out.”
Ozark hit enough shots and had enough talent to overcome a hot first half from Jessie Barton, who had 10 points early for Branson but did not score after halftime until there was a minute to play.
Junior Hannah Cook played a strong floor game for the Lady Tigers, adding six rebounds, six steals and five assists with her 12 points.
Branson plays host Friday to Webb City in a game that precedes the boys matchup. Ozark plays host Thursday to Neosho, in what could be a trap game before its two biggest COC tests.
Just ask unbeaten Republic, which was tied at halftime Monday against Neosho before turning up the pressure in the second half for the win.
Ozark will have to get by Neosho to stay unbeaten in the league heading into next week’s rivalry week. There, Little’s team will play host to Nixa on Feb. 11 and then play at Republic on Feb. 14.
“They’ve been our rivals since junior high, so those are the games we look forward to,” Beard said. “Not to look past Neosho, because they’re a good team, but those are the teams we’re really going to get pumped up for.”