The Southwest Trojans celebrated homecoming with a 56-51 victory over the Wheaton Bulldogs on Jan. 11. The box score reflected the numbers but not the drama of the contest.
Wheaton led early, but the Trojans finished the first quarter with a 6-0 run and took a 15-13 lead at the first break when James Pettit beat the buzzer with a long trey from the right wing.
Southwest reeled off the first 8 points of the second period to claim a 23-13 lead before Wheaton's Jory Bartkoski ended Southwest's run with an offensive board and putback.
Justin Yeary scored with a drive and a trey, and Bartkoski scored again to cut the lead to 25-22 with 3:03 remaining in the period.
Josh Cutberth and Jordan Epling tossed in back-to-back treys to boost the Southwest lead back to 31-22. The Trojans led by as many as 11 points as the clock ran down, but a Chase Cantwell bomb for the Bulldogs created the halftime score of 33-25.
Southwest took control in the third period. The Trojans scored three baskets on fast breaks, and Cutberth's hot hand authored two more treys as the hosts took a 48-33 lead at the final break.
In the fourth quarter, the Trojans led by 17 with 6:52 to play, and the inevitable move to milk the clock occurred. Southwest's inability to handle the ball gave the Bulldogs the break they so desperately needed.
Like a racecar with cheap plug wires, the Trojans sputtered when they tried to coast to the finish.
"We took shots we shouldn't have and made too many turnovers," said Southwest's Jess Ross.
Wheaton responded with a furious comeback run, scoring 13 unanswered points to cut the lead to 52-48 with 1:05 on the clock.
Pettit sank a pair of free throws to give Southwest a 54-48 advantage, but then Bartkoski threw in a long 3-pointer to pull Wheaton within a single possession at 54-51.
With only 15 seconds left, the Bulldogs had to foul immediately, and Epling coolly sank both free throws to create the final score.
It was a classic Southwest-Wheaton clash. Although the Bulldogs had won only one of the previous eight meetings between the schools, three of the previous games were decided by 2 points or less. Rusty Roe seems to always have his team playing its best against his alma mater.
Southwest improved to 8-6 overall and 3-0 in the Ozark 7 Conference with the win. Wheaton dipped to 7-7 and 2-1 with the loss.
Scoring for Southwest: Epling, 20 points; Pettit, 17; Cutberth, 13; Blake Barnes, 4; and Drew Farrer, 2.
Scoring for Wheaton: Bartkoski, 19 points; Yeary, 17; Matt Hickman, 5; Tyler Musick, 4; Cantwell, 3; and Darrell Burns, 2.