It was just your average night of winning basketball for the Republic Tigers in the district tournament at Carthage Tuesday. Almost every player on the floor scored precisely at his season average, but the Tigers had to catch fire in the fourth quarter to come from behind and beat upstart Carthage 55-46.
The win was the 20th of the season for the Tigers, and it advanced them to the district championship game Thursday against Joplin. But to look at the scorebook, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the performance. Drew McMillin scored 19 (with a season average of 19). Joe Rexroat scored 12 (with a season average of 12.3). Race Looney scored 11 (with a season average of 10.9). Ahlante Askew scored six points (with a season average of 5.8). Nate Woolford added two (with a season average of 3.3). Will Berry finished with 5 (with a season average of 3.2).
But Republic’s strong finish ensured it was not just an ordinary night. For the first 24 minutes, Republic and Carthage were locked in a tight struggle that could have gone either way. And after an abysmal third quarter, Republic faced a four-point deficit, 38-34 with just seven minutes remaining in the game.
From that point on, though, everything went right for Republic. Race Looney fired a pass from half court to a wide-open Will Berry for a layup to cut the lead to two. Berry’s bucket sparked a 17-1 run by the Tigers that spanned most of the fourth quarter. The Tigers held Carthage without a field goal for eight minutes, 28 seconds to pull away for the victory.
Republic had threatened to pull away a few times, but Carthage stayed close, trailing 17-16 after one quarter and 29-24 at halftime. But Carthage held Republic to just five points in the third quarter to take a 38-34 lead into the fourth. Coach Tim Brown, knowing his team would have the ball to open the fourth quarter, tried to have his team hold the ball for one shot at the end of the third period.
“We were going to hold the ball … and we didn’t execute, didn’t run the play right,” Brown said. “So (between quarters), we were trying to get on the same page, be accountable, and we were really just talking about the next play. That’s a motto of ours: ‘Next play.’
“We knew we didn’t have a very good quarter and we knew there wasn’t time to sit and pout about what happened. And our guys just stepped up. They’ve been in those kinds of games their whole career, and it was just typical Republic basketball.”
When Berry eluded the defense to get free for a layup, it sparked the Tigers’ game-winning run.
“He’s an unsung hero, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by our coaching staff,” Brown said of Berry after the game. “He does all the dirty work, and I would take a Will Berry in uniform every single year that I coached for the rest of my life, because he’s selfless, he’s a winner, and he does whatever is asked of him. And all he cares about is winning.
“Obviously, scoring that basket was big. Then we followed that up with another basket… to get it back even. And once we got our patented five-point lead, two-possession lead with our guards, we felt like we can put that to bed pretty often.”
The Tigers improve to 20-7. They’ll get a rematch with Central Ozark Conference co-champ Joplin, who won the regular-season matchup between the two teams. Joplin beat Willard in overtime to advance to the championship game.
Republic scoring: Drew McMillin 19, Joe Rexroat 12, Race Looney 11, Ahlante Askew 6, Will Berry 5, Nate Woolford 2