A defensive switch by Republic at the beginning of the second half slowed down Willard’s offense and helped Republic take control on the way to a 63-59 win in the Class 5 District 12 championship game Friday in Republic. Republic opened the half in a triangle-and-two defense and allowed just eight points in the third quarter.
“I think the difference in the game was the start of the second half,” said coach Tim Brown. “We had a three-point lead and we talked about not allowing them to play in transition and get easy baskets.
“We came out in a triangle-and-two (defense) to start the third, and they were kind of discombobulated. That allowed us to get our patented six- to eight-point lead, and we feel if we get a six- to eight-point lead, we’re going to find it a way to grind it out.”
After leading 32-29 at halftime, Republic pushed its lead to double digits by the time the third quarter had ended. Republic led 45-33 with 2:22 remaining in the third, but Willard put together a small run to close the gap to 45-37 when the fourth quarter began.
The lead shrank to as few as five points in the fourth quarter, but Willard never got closer than that until a three-pointer at the buzzer after the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Senior Broc Smith came up big for the Tigers, scoring a game-high 22 points. He made four free throws down the stretch to help fight off a late Willard charge.
“We went to a triangle-and-two in the start of the third quarter, and that really got them discombobulated,” Smith said. “We stretched out the lead to 12, and we kind of turned it over a little bit, but we kept our composure and… stuck it through and we got ourselves a district title.”
Trent Rackley also scored in double figures with 12 points. It was the second straight game that he played a key role in the Tigers’ offense, after an offensive slump near the end of the regular season.
Drew McMillin finished with 11 points after a slow start.
Brown said regardless of the outcome of the game, playing in front of a packed house was a great experience for him and the team.
“The reward is awesome and getting to celebrate this, but the memories that were made were on that floor with that crowd. I’m really happy for our community, boys and girls… and excited to go stack our program up on Wednesday with two more good programs in Kickapoo,” he said.
The boys will play Kickapoo in the state sectionals at 6:00 Wednesday at Drury University, and the girls will play Kickapoo at 7:45.