Every time top-seeded Republic looked like it was about to pull away, #4 seed Joplin came up with a big play to stay in it. But with time running down, Republic’s defense came up with the biggest play of all — forcing Joplin into a long, unplanned shot as time expired and sealing a 51-48 victory in the district semifinal game.
Republic led by eight points, 47-39, with a little over two minutes remaining. But a couple of three-pointers by Isaiah Davis helped the Eagles climb back into the game, eventually cutting the score to 49-48.
Race Looney made two free throws to give Republic a three-point lead again, but Joplin had an opportunity to tie the score with about 20 seconds left. A three-pointer by Davis was off the mark, but Evan Guillory rebounded the ball to give Joplin one more chance after a time out.
Before the final possession, coach Tim Brown and his players decided to hang their hat on the same defense that has been successful all year, rather than trying to pull a switch to confuse Joplin.
“We just said we’re going to guard the way that we guard. We’re going to do the things that we do. We’re going to challenge, we’re going to contest, we’re not going to switch everything,” Brown said of that final huddle. “And I thought our guys did a good job of that. There were about 15 seconds on the clock and they had to shoot a shot with about three (seconds), so I’m really proud of them.”
In the first meeting between Republic and Joplin, the Eagles got unexpected contributions from some of their supporting players. Brown and the Tigers focused on shutting off those options, in addition to Joplin stars Guillory and Zach Westmoreland. But Brown said Joplin had an answer for that game plan.
“I thought we did a really nice job… of changing our close outs on guys that made shots for them the last game,” said Brown. “We obviously wanted to take away Guillory and Westmoreland… and I thought we did a good job of limiting them. Because they’re so talented and have such a deep roster, they had more guys that stepped up and made shots tonight.”
Guillory scored 17 to lead Joplin, 11 of them in the second half. Westmoreland didn’t score. But Thomas Hafer had nine points and Davis finished with 14 to help Joplin hang close.
“I’m really proud of our guys. They stayed with it. And that’s something we talked about. We said don’t get discouraged if other guys do make shots–that they’re going to have to make a lot of them to beat us, and I’m just really proud of our guys for grinding it out,” Brown said.
Republic led 11-10 after one quarter, and the teams were tied 22-22 at halftime. But Republic looked like it was about to pull away in the third quarter, outscoring Joplin 18-10 to take a 40-32 lead into the fourth. A three-pointer by Broc Smith just before the buzzer seemingly gave Republic all the momentum.
The Tigers led by nine points at 44-35, but Joplin used a 13-5 run to get within a point before Republic closed out the win.
The Tigers got 15 points from Broc Smith, 14 from Trent Rackley, and 12 from Race Looney. Rackley made four three-pointers, including two in the first quarter to get Republic off to a fast start. His two second-half threes helped Republic take control briefly in the third quarter.
Republic improved to 21-6 overall. They’ll meet #2 seed Willard in the district championship game Friday at 7:45 pm. Willard (17-9) beat #3 Parkview 53-45 to advance to the championship game.
Earlier this season, Republic beat Willard 58-44.
Championship night will be a Willard-Republic double-header. The Willard and Republic girls will square off for the Class 5 District 12 title at 6:00 pm with the boys’ game to follow. (Republic Tiger Sports will broadcast both games.)
Broc Smith 15, Trent Rackley 14, Race Looney 12, Drew McMillin 6, Tucker Thomas 4