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After opener with Milton, Nixa may get rematch with Irish at Tournament Of Champions

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When Springfield Catholic was added as a fill-in for the Bass Pro Shops Tournament Of Champions last week, Nixa coach Jay Osborne felt it put his Eagles in a win-win scenario.

Nixa opens TOC play opposite Milton (Georgia) out of Atlanta on Thursday, while on the same side of the bracket Catholic will face Washington D.C. Paul VI.

Per usual, the local entries will be underdogs.

As long as Nixa and the Irish both have the same outcome in the first round, they’ll meet Friday in what would be an anticipated rematch. The Eagles were upset by Catholic at the Blue & Gold Tournament two weeks ago.   

“Win or lose, we may have an opportunity to play them again,” Osborne said. “If we’re not successful Thursday and we play Catholic again, we will be highly motivated, no doubt about it. You want to learn from your mistakes and we made big mistakes that night.

“I’m still stunned and confused by our lack of execution in that game,” he added. “I’m still dumbfounded by it. I don’t have an answer for it. We didn’t make any adjustments. It was a huge disappointment.”

First things first, of course, Nixa (10-1) will have the chance in its game with Milton (9-5) to go up against what is regarded as one of the nation’s premier backcourts. The best endorsement of Milton’s guards is that Kanaan Carlyle is a Stanford commit and Bruce Thornton is an Ohio State signee.

“They’ve got three outstanding guards,” Osborne said. “They can all shoot it, drive it, are excellent passers and very quick defensively. They cover a lot of ground on defense. I haven’t seen them press anybody, but they’re very aggressive in their half-court defense.

“They play very fast and are capable of scoring in a hurry,” he added. “Watching video is different than watching in person. Based on their quickness and athleticism, I think they’re going to be quicker and faster in person. We’ve got our work cut out for us. Our transition defense is going to have to be really good. If we don’t transition back on defense, they’re going to score quick and often.”

Milton features a notable man in the middle in LT Overton. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior is rated as one of the nation’s top football prospects. A defensive lineman, he lists Arkansas among seven SEC schools he is considering.

With Sierra Canyon (California) highlighting the TOC field, ESPN cameras will be on hand for the semifinal, third-place and championship games.

Sierra Canyon features Bronny James, the son of LeBron James, along with UCLA signee Amari Bailey and super sophomore Isaiah Elohim.

Osborne is optimistic how his players will respond to the bright-lights atmosphere that could attract crowds approaching 10,000. Nixa is fresh from a 63-27 whipping of Rogersville and a 57-40 triumph at Carthage last week.

“We’ve got some athletes and kids who compete. I like that about our team,” he said. “We’re not going to lay down or be intimidated. We’re excited about playing this week.”

No matter the foe, Osborne, is anxious to see the Eagles sharpen their defense and be stronger on the boards.

“We have to rebound better and fill gaps on defense,” Osborne said. “Our defensive execution has to be superb and our rebounding is going to be a focus. Getting missed shots and to loose balls has to be a priority.

“Win or lose, playing nationally-ranked people is going to help you,” he added. “It’s going to make you perform at a higher level. It’s helped our teams in the past.”

This is Nixa’s fifth TOC appearance. The Eagles moved to the right of the bracket in 2011 by downing LaVerne Lutheran (California) and in 2013 by beating Louisville North Bullitt (Kentucky).

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