Tim Brown got the shot he wanted from the player he wanted with the game on the line. Sometimes even a good shot doesn’t go through the hoop.
Race Looney’s eight-foot baseline jumper with three seconds remaining went partway through the rim before bouncing out, helping top-seeded Joplin escape with a 55-54 victory and a district championship. The loss ended Republic’s season at 20-7 and sent Joplin to the state sectionals, where they’ll play Kickapoo.
With the game tied 44-44 and 44 seconds remaining, Joplin had the ball and a chance to take the last shot. Instead of letting that happen, the Tigers opted to foul Zach Westmoreland, who has struggled at the free throw line all year and missed several free throws in the district semifinal against Willard. With about ten seconds remaining, Westmoreland hit the front end of the one-and-one to give Joplin a lead.
“As coaches, we spend a lot of time scouting teams. We look at their stats, we watch film. struggles from the foul line,” Brown said. “It seemed like they had had multiple possessions where we couldn’t get stops. They were going to hold it for the last shot. We’ve seen them do that time and time again and something we talked about on Tuesday watching their game with Willard in the same situation, what do we do? And we decided we were going to foul .. to put him on the line. Give him credit, he made one, missed the second one to give us a chance to win the game.”
After Westmoreland’s miss, Looney raced the ball up-court and eventually found himself on the baseline, guarded by Isaiah Davis. He floated the ball over Davis’s hand, and the ball looked like it would go through before it rimmed out.
“We had an unbelievable look,” Brown said. “You never sleep well after a loss, but I can live with knowing that we got what we wanted from the player that we wanted, and a kid who’s had a fantastic career and one of the greats to put on a Republic jersey.”
The Tigers had trailed coming into the fourth quarter after leading throughout the first half. Republic jumped ahead 14-10 and led 20-18 at halftime. But the Tigers had to play much of that second quarter without Looney because of foul trouble, allowing Joplin to slow some of Republic’s momentum.
In the third quarter, Joplin outscored Republic 15-11 to take the lead 33-31 going into the final eight minutes. When Ahlante Askew went out with an injury, Carson Neff stepped in and played well, scoring five points and nabbing a steal on the defensive end at a key moment.
But in the fourth quarter, Joplin used its size and athleticism to penetrate the Republic defense and get good shots inside. Joplin guard Always Wright scored seven of his 12 points in the fourth quarter to help fight off Republic down the stretch, and Westmoreland’s free throw put the Eagles over the hump.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a group of guys than I am of this group right here,” Brown said. “They stuck together. We’ve got some great leadership in that locker room –– some guys that not only had successful careers and can continue to have successful careers, but we’ve got some really high-character guys in that locker room.
Drew McMillin scored 15 points to lead Republic. Joe Rexroat scored 14 in his final game as a Tiger. Looney, also playing in his last game, scored all five of his points in the fourth quarter. The game was also the final appearance in a Tiger uniform for Will Berry, Nate Woolford, and Trevor Porter.
“You look at the season we had and the games that we were in, there’s a reason our tradition and culture is strong here at Republic and we had a group of guys that wanted to make sure that they put themselves in that position and situation. And I know that we’ve got a lot of guys that are going to be successful at life,” Brown said.
Republic scoring: Drew McMillin 15, Joe Rexroat 14, Race Looney 5, Ahlante Askew 5, Carson Neff 5