The Republic boys basketball team made it a clean conference sweep Tuesday night, knocking off Ozark on the road 55-47 to join the Lady Tigers as Central Ozark Conference champions. Broc Smith scored 21 points for Republic and the Tigers avenged an earlier loss to Ozark in the Blue and Gold Tournament.
“I’m just really proud of our kids and proud of our program,” said first-year coach Tim Brown. One of our goals when we started the season was to win the conference, and we’re able to check that off. And what a way to do it––on the road at Ozark, a team that knocked us out of the Blue & Gold. I’m just really happy for our guys. I think we’re playing our best basketball right now.”
It was a tough, physical battle all night, and Ozark threw full-court pressure at Republic from the start. For much of the first half, Republic had trouble responding. When Republic didn’t turn the ball over in the back-court, they hurried on the offensive end of the floor at times. Ozark led for most of the first quarter, but a mini-run at the end of the period allowed Republic to take a 12-11 lead.
Republic’s defense buckled down even more in the second quarter, and the Tigers held Ozark to just six points. Republic led 23-17 at half. But a 10-0 run early in the third quarter put Ozark back in control. Ozark went from an eight-point deficit to a two-point lead before Republic righted the ship enough to re-take the lead going into the fourth quarter, 36-34.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Ozark outscored Republic 17-6 in the fourth quarter to snatch an unlikely victory. This time, Republic controlled the fourth quarter. The Tigers outscored Ozark 19-13 in the final eight minute. Fifteen of those points came on free throws, as Ozark was forced to foul to try to get back in the game.
“I thought even though it may have been sloppy, at winning time, we found ways to secure the ball, get to the foul line, and make them,” said Brown. “I’m specifically happy for Trent Rackley. He had kind of a rough first half, and he had a really big second half. He had a great start to the third quarter––had a basket, read it right, and scored. Then he had a lot of rebounds there down the stretch and did a good job of finding the ball and getting to the foul line and icing the game. I’m really proud of the senior leadership he showed tonight.”
Tucker Thomas made seven of eight free throws in the fourth quarter, as well, to help the Tigers pull away.
Republic improves to 19-6 overall. The Tigers are 8-0 in the COC, with one game remaining. That’s Friday at Webb City.
Because no other team has fewer than two conference losses, the Tigers have clinched the league title. They also have an opportunity for a 20-win regular season in Brown’s first year at the helm.