Joplin McAuley has Southwest's number. McAuley has won five of the last six regular season meetings between the two Ozark 7 conference schools, none more damaging to Southwest's hopes than the 68-63 home victory on Monday, Feb. 9.
The Trojans had just defeated the Purdy Eagles in a titanic battle on the previous Friday to claim a share of the Ozark 7 lead. With a nine-game winning streak in place, the Trojans were peaking at the right time to establish their claim to the conference title.
The memories of an early-season loss to McAuley should have been the wake-up call. Even though the Warriors have sputtered at times, including an inexplicable loss to Wheaton, the team's talented line-up poses matchup problems for conference foes.
Kevin O'Keefe, who authored the game-winning shot against Southwest back in December, was limited to 16 points against the Trojans. Matthew Whittington played strong defense in holding O'Keefe under 20, but the focus on the high-scoring swingman left opportunities for the other McAuley shooters.
The Warriors led 19-12 and 33-30 to end the first two quarters of play. Both Josh Hartin and Levi Roberts collected three early fouls as the Trojans faltered out of the gate. While Roberts sat out the entire second quarter and played sparingly in the third, Southwest stormed back from the break and carried the third quarter, 17-8, to take a 47-41 lead.
But McAuley had one more big run left. The home team put up 27 fourth quarter points and moved ahead to win 68-63.
Brant Russell was the scoring hero for the victors, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the decisive fourth quarter, and Garret Wagner tallied 18 points to go with O'Keefe's 16.
Hartin led Southwest with 20 points, including four treys in the third quarter. Roberts, after torching Purdy for 43 on Friday, fouled out and managed 19 points, with 10 in the first quarter and 9 in the fourth. Whittington scored 16 and snared five rebounds, but Skylar Knoll led Southwest in boards with 12, while scoring 5.
"We were flat," reported Southwest's Jason Horn. "It was a trap game for us. The guys spent a lot of emotion in the game Friday and then had to come back and play on a Monday, which is not their normal game day. We were just out of sync and didn't play very well."
Southwest will now have to win out in conference play, barring a Purdy collapse, to have any hopes of winning or sharing the Ozark 7 title.