The Southwest Trojans rolled to a third consecutive conference win on Tuesday, Jan. 10, taking a 65-58 victory over the visiting Verona Wildcats. After winning their own holiday tournament, the Trojans have notched wins over Exeter, Thomas Jefferson and Verona to run their season record to 11-3 to go with a 4-1 conference slate.
The Trojans doubled up the Exeter Tigers 82-41, carrying over the momentum from their tournament win. Then on Monday night in Joplin, Southwest won a gritty game in overtime, 54-46, over the Thomas Jefferson Cavaliers.
Verona missed its chance to stay atop the Ozark 7 Conference standings. With Southwest flat in the early going after the long road trip and overtime struggle on Monday, Brad Stewart's club led by a dozen points late in the second quarter. But the Trojans surged to a comeback that led to a 65-58 defeat for Verona.
"It's always tough playing two games in two days especially when those teams play totally different styles," said Southwest's Jason Horn. "I have to give a lot of credit to our team defense. It has been solid and very consistent up to this point."
Trailing 35-23 with 1:54 left in the first half, Southwest needed a wake-up call. Jordan Epling swished a trey from the top of the key and then drove the baseline for an old-fashioned three-point play to pull the Trojans within 35-29. Then Southwest's Josh Cutberth was decked by Verona's Brent Downs on a fast break attempt.
It was a hard foul. Cutberth, who missed several the entire holiday tournament after being injured against Diamond, finally walked off the court. But the play revitalized the Southwest team.
In the third quarter, the Trojans took over inside. Tyler Ferguson dished out assists on three consecutive possessions for easy layups in the paint to tie the score at 36-36. With the clock running down, Ferguson found Skylar Knoll open again with an interior pass and the resulting basket gave Southwest a 43-42 lead at the final break.
Seth Losack scored with a driving hoop to give Verona a 44-43 lead to open the fourth quarter, but that was the last lead for the Wildcats. Southwest opened a 10-point advantage when James Pettit's fast break layup created a 60-50 score. The Wildcats could get no closer than seven points in the closing minutes as Southwest took the victory.
A slow start and shaky free-throw shooting nearly sank the Trojans on this night. Southwest converted only 14 of 28 attempts from the line, while Verona made nine of 14.
Cody Ernsberger, Verona's senior guard, nailed five treys and scored 23 total points to lead the Wildcats. Knoll led the Trojans with 20.
"Verona did a good job of attacking the rim and finding their shooters," said Horn. "They have three of the best guards we have faced this season. I thought our guys did a good job of adjusting to their quickness and forcing them to play on their heels in the second half."
Southwest scorers: Skylar Knoll, 20; James Pettit, 14; Tyler Ferguson, 9; Jordan Epling, 9; Travis Hayworth, 5; Jeff Elkins, 5; and Josh Cutberth, 3.
Verona scorers: Cody Ernsberger, 23; Wesley Kissinger, 17; Seth Losack, 12; Nick Washam, 45; and Tomas Estrada, 2.
Trojans beat Wheaton
The Southwest Trojans took one more step toward the Ozark 7 Conference title on Friday, earning a tough 61-59 win on the road at Wheaton.
The Trojans jumped to an early 19-8 lead, before Wheaton battled back to take a 43-42 lead after three quarters. Southwest responded with a 19-16 edge in the decisive fourth quarter.
Epling led the Trojans with 15 points.