Austin Ruder went into the locker room at halftime Tuesday night a little ticked off.
He was a little mad about his shooting, a little bothered by the halftime deficit and he was still fuming over a couple of calls that didn’t go his way.
All of which served as Ruder’s second-half motivation, to Willard’s demise.
The Missouri State-bound senior guard scored 19 of his game-high 28 points over the final two quarters as Nixa held off Willard, 63-59, in Central Ozark Conference action before a raucous full house.
“After I hit a couple of shots early, they did a nice job of pressuring me and I was kind of playing soft like everybody else,” Ruder said.
“I went to the locker room at halftime mad about a couple of calls, but that’s just who I am, and after that I just started being more aggressive which really helped my game.”
Nixa (20-5, 5-2) led Willard (15-8, 4-3) by one point at halftime (29-28), but Willard regained the lead by the end of the third period, 45-44, as Ruder had nine points.
Nixa coach Jay Osborne liked the second-half version of Ruder much better because of his aggressiveness.
“I begged Austin to attack the goal more in the second half instead of settling for those long shots,” Osborne said. “He got to the rim … and he was real aggressive with the ball and we had to have that from him.”
A rebound and putback from sophomore Jacob Ruder gave Nixa a 48-45 lead just one minute into the fourth quarter.
Playing in his first game since injuring his shoulder against Republic on Feb. 8, Jacob Ruder scored 12 points and pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.
After a basket from Willard senior Kolbe Kinghorn cut the Nixa lead to 48-47, Austin Ruder scored on back-to-back layups to give the Eagles a 52-47 lead with 6:06 remaining.
The Tigers outscored Nixa 10-5 over the next 4:47 to tie the game at 57 with just over two minutes left.
That’s when things got increasingly worse for Willard.
Leading scorer Chris Kendrix fouled out with less than two minutes left and Kinghorn, Willard’s second-leading scorer, fouled out with less than a minute to play as the Tigers scored just two points the rest of the way.
“Anytime they’re best two players get into foul trouble, then you’ve got to take advantage of it and I thought we did,” Osborne said. “When they got into foul trouble, they became less aggressive and that’s when we made our run.”
Following the game, Kendrix spoke of needing another scorer to step up in the crunch.
“It was frustrating because Kolbe and I are our two scorers and whenever we both come out, everybody else has to find out what to do,” Kendrix said.