By Lee Stubblefield
Let bedlam reign. The Southwest Trojans beat Purdy 68-65 on Friday, Feb. 6, ending the Eagles' long conference win streak and vaulting the two schools into a tie for first place in the Ozark 7 Conference. Levi Roberts led Southwest to the biggest win for the Barry County school in 15 years with his stellar 43-point performance.
Not since the mid-1990s have the Trojans played a meaningful regular season contest this late in the season. The Trojan faithful have suffered through some lean years, when the team was known more for the characters on the bench than the character within the players.
Jason Horn, the Trojans' fiery young coach, has turned the team around in a hurry, and Friday's upset of the conference leader is the signature win of his career.
Few basketball experts in southwest Missouri expected the Trojans to beat the Eagles, but the consensus opinion was that they were the only Ozark 7 team that could. A win would have virtually clinched the conference title for Purdy. The Southwest victory not only establishes a tie for the Ozark 7 lead but puts even more emphasis on the rubber match to be played at Purdy on Feb. 19.
The game itself was as fine a high school competition as anyone could expect. Besides the heroics of Roberts, the game evolved into a chess match between the two coaches, Horn and Chris Kennedy, of Purdy, and finally, a test of will and determination of the players involved.
Then there was the crowd. The 1,200-capacity gym was crammed full, and the overflow watched the game on a live feed in the adjacent cafeteria. Principal Brad Clark had declared the game a "blackout," and the majority of Southwest fans wore special black shirts for the occasion. The band played loudly, the home fans roared and waved red and black "terrible towels" and the student section abounded with painted faces, pom-poms and signs.
The Purdy fans sported bright yellow shirts, and of course included the "bleacher creatures" and their festive costumes.
On the court, Roberts was simply amazing in the first half. After being recognized before the game for reaching the 1,000-point scoring plateau in his career, the junior guard shocked Purdy by knocking down five treys and scoring 28 to lead Southwest to a big half-time lead. Seemingly intent on scoring his second 1,000 in a single night, Roberts knocked down his first trey just 10 seconds into the contest.
The following two minutes saw only a Blake Williams free throw for Purdy and Southwest stuck on 3. But there was plenty of action. Horn unveiled his defensive strategy immediately, with the short but quick Josh Hartin shadowing Mason Roller on every Purdy possession. Williams, of the Eagles, found himself staring into the eyes of Matthew Whittington, Southwest's tallest player, at the top of the arc when he tried to set the Purdy offense.
The early frantic pace favored Southwest even though the scoring explosion was still to come, and Kennedy called a timeout with just under 6:00 on the first quarter clock.
Roberts flipped in a driving, twisting lay-up when play resumed to give Southwest a 5-1 lead. In quick succession, he nailed a trey from the right wing, stole a pass and dribbled coast-to-coast for a bucket, and then faked Purdy's Roller into the air and drew contact on an attempted trey. Roberts converted two of the three free throws and the Trojans led 12-3.
The floodgate of points opened for both teams. The quarter ended with Southwest leading 25-16 on the strength of Roberts' 18 points. Roller had 8 for Purdy and Kevin Terry scored two baskets, but the visitors were in obvious trouble, having already seen the wrong end of a dozen-point lead.
The second quarter started in the same vein as the first, as Roberts lured Trent Goetz into the air with a pump fake and drew contact on another trey attempt. This time, he drained all three free throws and gave the Trojans their second double-digit lead at 28-16.
With 3:56 remaining in the half, Williams shook off his heavily-taped ankle and smoked a trey from the left corner. Roberts answered with another three-point shot for Southwest, and then Williams moved to a left wing spot and hit yet another three.
Bored with those easy long-range jumpers, Roberts drove the lane and elevated for a high arching shot off the glass for a 33-22 Southwest lead. He scored again with 1:33 left in the half and converted the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play, and a 38-22 advantage. Williams pulled Purdy back with another left-wing trey, Landon Terry got a rebound and stick, and the Eagles were down only 38-27.
Hartin brought the crowd to a higher frenzy, draining his three with only :18 left on the clock, and Southwest carried an impressive 41-27 lead to the locker room.
But somehow you knew that Purdy would make a run. Still, the swiftness with which the game turned was surprising.
After Roberts made a circus shot in midair following his rebound of Austin Rettman's miss, the Eagles took over the third quarter with a 9-0 run. Roller wore out the Trojans in the lane and tallied 14 points in the frame to lead the Eagles back within a point as the period ended, 50-49.
But Southwest had led the entire game and fought to keep it that way. Whittington scored his first points of the night with a left-handed hook, and Southwest inched ahead 52-49.
Goetz converted a pair of free throws to cut the lead back to a single point, and then Trenton Patton distanced himself from Skylar Knoll in the lane and scored to give the Eagles their first lead, 53-52, with 6:56 to play.
Goetz scored again, but Southwest freshman Tyler Ferguson tied the game at 55 with a nervy trey. Goetz and Roller scored back-to-back baskets, and Purdy gained a 59-55 edge as the clock rolled toward five minutes.
Following a tension-filled timeout, Southwest's Hartin missed in the lane, snared his own board and scored. Then Roberts slashed through the lane and laid a shot softly off the glass to earn a 59-59 tie at the 3:43 mark.
With a new game in play, Kevin Terry scored on a slick assist from Roller and Purdy regained the lead at 61-59. Roller added a free throw, and then Williams canned a pair of them, and Purdy grabbed a 5-point lead with only 1:54 left.
With exhaustion claiming his shooting legs, Roberts had not connected on a three-point attempt since the second quarter. His trey with 1:42 to play was perhaps the biggest shot of the game and pulled Southwest within a deuce at 64-62.
Purdy's Kevin Terry could not hit the first opportunity of a one-and-one with 1:02 to play. Roberts hit three ice-water-in-the-veins free throws to pull Southwest to a tie, and then Purdy led 65-64 after Roller hit one of two from the line with 23 ticks remaining.
Southwest called timeout, and the inbounds play that followed isolated Roberts against Williams in the lane, and the Trojan guard drew the foul and nailed the free throws with 15 seconds left, and Southwest led, 66-65. Purdy hurriedly put the ball in play, but the down the court pass was too tall and sailed out of bounds.
The Eagles called timeout and then fouled immediately as Hartin handled the ball for Southwest. His two free throws built a three-point lead, and Roller's desperate attempt missed at the buzzer. The Trojans prevailed 68-65 in a thriller.
Besides Roberts' 43 points, Hartin scored 16 for Southwest. The other three Trojan starters, Rettman, Whittington and Knoll, each scored a basket in the game. The remaining three points came from Ferguson's last-quarter bomb when the Trojans needed a lift.
Roller led Purdy with his impressive 27 points. Williams scored 13, and Goetz, Kevin Terry and Patton all scored 6.
Southwest has conference games against Joplin McAuley and Thomas Jefferson before the rematch with Purdy on Feb. 19. The Eagles have conference matches with Exeter and McAuley before hosting the Trojans in what should decide the Ozark 7 title.
With the victory, Southwest improved to 13-6 on the season, extending the Trojans' winning streak to nine games.
In early-evening action, the Southwest JV squad spurted to a 10-0 lead to open the game and was never headed in the contest, posting a 38-32 win over Purdy. Jake Shrum scored all nine of his points in the second quarter to lead Southwest. Jeff Elkins and Cam McCurdy scored 8 apiece for the Trojans.