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Joplin rolls past Neosho in consolation semis

Jan. 5—It was a tough day for Neosho as it fell 55-33 to Joplin in the semifinals of the consolation side of the bracket on Friday inside Kaminsky Gymnasium for the Kaminsky Classic.

The Wildcats (4-8) shot just 32%, and two of their key players in Collier Hendricks and Ty Harris spent most of the second half on the bench.

Joplin (2-9) improved from its loss to Union (St. Louis) on Thursday. The Eagles scored more and shot the ball well going 24 of 52 overall. The 3-point shot was also falling as they made 5 of 10 from deep.

"It definitely started on the defensive end. I thought we came out and did what we needed to on their guards that we knew could shoot it and are pretty shifty," Joplin head coach Nick Pfeifer said.

The defense started strong, only allowing the Wildcats to score 2 points in the opening quarter. In fact, Joplin was leading 7-0 before Neosho found a basket.

That first shot came on a tough turnaround basket from Harris to make it 7-2. Neosho head coach Zane Culp immediately called for a timeout after that shot went through the net. That didn't change the way the game was heading as the Eagles ran out to a 14-2 advantage by the end of the first quarter.

"I thought we got off to a really bad start offensively and were actually playing just fine defensively," Culp said. "Everything feels like a backbreaker when you can't put the ball in the hole, but luckily Ty made some tough shots and Colton Southern had a nice finish. We just never got it going. Did we score 2 points in the first quarter? And then 5 in the second? That's just unheard of."

It was 21-7 in favor of Joplin at halftime and looked like it could be anyone's game at that point with Neosho's defense keeping the game within reach despite offensive blunders.

The Eagles won the third quarter 15-14 and maintained the big advantage heading into the final quarter of play at 36-21.

Collis Jones scored 8 points in each half to total 16 for Joplin and lead the way in scoring. He grabbed four first-half rebounds as well and pulled down one more for a total of five in the game. Whit Hafer joined him in double figures with 10 points as the big man had a key second half to help the Eagles stretch their lead. He scored 8 points and pulled down six rebounds in the second half to earn a double-double with 10 rebounds as well.

"Whit's definitely a tough matchup for Neosho. He's a tough matchup for anybody," Pfeifer said. "He does a good job defensively every day. But I thought today getting him going a little bit more offensively was important.

"Collis coming off the bench is a guy that needs to score for us and make plays, and I thought he did a pretty good job of that tonight."

Hafer talked about his defense as well as the team's as a whole and how important that part of the game is for this group.

"Defense is always a big part of our team. Coach Pfeifer puts a huge emphasis on it," he said. "It's pretty important to me. The offense just comes after that."

Hafer noted that getting chemistry with a younger team this year will be important moving forward. He sees that chemistry helping his game as well as everyone else. He was able to find an open spot on the short corner and take one quick dribble and rise up for a dunk to put the Eagles ahead 36-19 late in the third quarter. Opportunities like that may present themselves more frequently as this offense continues to find a groove together.

Pfeifer evaluated his team's overall performance coming off the loss Thursday where the offense couldn't get going.

"I thought it helped that we scored a couple baskets early, and then we were able to not get into a hole," he said. "Last night, we were kind of in a hole."

Joplin will try to build off of this win against Webb City (8-3) in the fifth-place game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The Cardinals defeated Carl Junction (5-6) 65-49 on Friday.

"That will be a battle. They're very physical. They put a lot of pressure on you. They shoot a lot of threes, and they've got big, strong athletes," Pfeifer said of the Cardinals. "I'm anxious and excited to see how we respond to some of their physicality."

Hafer talked about the impact this win could have on the team and the opportunity to get to face a rival Saturday.

"I think it will boost it," Hafer said of the team's confidence. "We needed a win. Hopefully, this will put us on a track to keep competing at a high level. ... Webb's always a high-energy game, so there's going to be energy regardless. We just have to make sure we're bringing the intensity too."

Neosho meets Carl Junction at 11 a.m. for seventh place.

"I know it's the seventh-place game, but I don't think CJ is a bad team at all, so we have to step up and do the things we're supposed to do tomorrow," Culp said.