Boys basketball: Big Reds hold off Davis County

Jan. 19—CENTERVILLE — Things were starting to get hairy on Thursday night at Lakeview Gymnasium.

The home team was one shot away from seeing what had been a 15-point lead completely disappear.

With the game on the line, the Centerville boys basketball team got the biggest stop of the night in the final seconds of a South Central Conference clash with Davis County. The Big Reds put pressure on Klaydick Proctor and Charlie Bigsby, ultimately forcing a desperation cross-court pass that was picked off by Conner Stephens.

Two free throws later, Centerville clinched a 66-61 win over the Mustangs in what proved to be a thrilling return to the hardwood for both teams on yet another snowy, windy night in southern Iowa. The recent winter storms have kept both teams off the court since dropping weekend road games on Jan. 6.

"We just needed to lock in on defense. If they don't score, they don't win," Stephens said. "We tried not to be too aggressive and risk giving up an open look. We just stayed in good position."

Stephens closed out a solid all-around night for Centerville, finishing with 11 points while collecting eight rebounds, six assists and four steals. The Big Reds were able to jump out to and build on their lead in the first half with a potent second quarter that included six made 3-pointers, including a buzzer-beater by Malachi Rice that lifted Centerville to a 37-26 halftime lead over the Mustangs.

The Mustangs, however, refused to go away even after the Big Reds scored six of the first eight points in the second half opening a 43-28 lead. Carter Will scored five of Davis County's seven straight points late in the third quarter, cutting Centerville's lead to eight, before the Mustangs put 26 points on the board in the fourth quarter cutting the Big Red lead down to as little as two in the closing minute.

"Davis County, I feel, has improved tremendously since the beginning of the season," Centerville head boys basketball coach Tyler Baze said. "There were times we also looked very stagnant on offense, then there were times we looked very impatient. I'm going to chalk that up to not having played for a week-and-a-half with very limited practice times, but when we get to the postseason, we have to get more consistent than we are right now."

Once again on Thursday, the two newest additions to the Big Red basketball team made their presence felt. Malachi Rice scored a game-high 23 points while dishing out a team-leading seven assists while older brother Keith 'K.J.' Rice added 18 points, eight rebounds, six steals and five assists for Centerville.

"It's so nice having those guys on the team. It opens up the court so much more having two more guys that can handle the ball really well, shoot the ball really well and play defense really well," Stephens said. "They can do everything. Their attitudes have been great. My big thing is to play hard and they both like to play hard. It's made it so much fun to be out there on the court with them."

The Rice brothers combined to hit six of Centerville's nine made 3-pointers in the contest, helping the Big Reds maintain a 10-point lead with under three minutes left. Davis County, however, made one last run with nine straight points including a full-court feed from Bigsby to Will for a lay-up as well as a last-minute 3-pointer by Cason Young pulling Davis County within 63-61.

Malachi Rice split a pair of free throws with 19.4 seconds left, giving Davis County a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer. Bigsby found himself trapped on the sidelines with time winding down and desperately looked to pass the ball to an open teammate for a potential game-tying shot with Stephens jumping in to pick off the pass and dribble down the court before drawing the foul that led to the game-clinching free throws with 0.7 seconds left.

"You're never going to hear me say this, but I told the guys in the final timeout to overplay the 3," Baze said. "We came out and were really aggressive up top and in the corners. These guys are still learning how to play together, but the guys executed the plan at the end to not give up the 3."

Will finished the night with a game-high 23 points for the Mustangs. Weather permitting, Davis County (1-9, 1-7 SCC) and Centerville (6-5, 4-4 SCC) were scheduled to be back on the court on Friday as the Courier went to press with Davis County hosting Cardinal while Centerville hosts Albia on a special 'Pink Out' night for the entire Big Red boys basketball team.

"We're honoring Euan Lechtenberg's mother, Catherine, so that makes it even more special for us," Baze said. "We think a lot of Catherine."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.