We found out Tuesday Brandon Gordon is a hugger.
Gordon reveled in the jubilation of Nixa’s 61-54 double-overtime win over Ozark in a Class 5 District 11 semifinal. He stayed on Kickapoo’s court longer than any of his Eagles teammates for no other reason than he didn’t have any choice with seemingly everyone wanting to embrace the senior guard.
One particular hug stood out for Gordon.
“When my mom (Julie) came running up to me and she hugged me, that was a special moment for me because this doesn’t happen in my life without her,” Gordon said. “I hugged my family members. I hugged a bunch of friends — they were jumping all over me. I don’t even know how many people I hugged, but it was a lot. And I was happy to do it.”
We also found out Gordon is clutch come crunch time at the free-throw line.
He was a big part of Nixa clinching its record-setting third win over Ozark from the charity stripe. The Eagles were 22-of-24 from the foul line over the fourth quarter and overtimes. They were 11-of-12 shooting freebies in the second overtime.
Gordon was 6-of-6 on his free throws in the second overtime to cap his 16-point night.
It was all about a senior wanting to extend his career.
“Hitting those free throws, all I was thinking about was helping my team,” Gordon said. “I wanted to continue this. This is my last year. I didn’t want to lose tonight. I kept telling myself, ‘I’m going to hit these, I’m not going to miss one.’”
For Nixa (15-12), it’s the first time in school history the Eagles have swept three games in a season from Ozark (16-11).
The Eagles can celebrate that feat, even after not leading at all in regulation or the first overtime. They took their first lead at the 3:15 mark of the second overtime on two Josh Mason free throws to go up 50-48.
Nixa outscored Ozark 29-18 from the free-throw line. The only consistency in the Eagles’ offense was their free-throw shooting. They were 29-of-33 overall. The Tigers were 18-of-29.
Nixa won while making only two field goals in the two extra periods.
Mason accounted for the Eagles’ lone field goal in the second overtime that ignited a 6-0 Nixa run. Mason sliced in between two defenders and drew contact while banking in a 10-foot jumper. No foul was called, but no matter. The Eagles were up 53-52 with 1:40 remaining and never trailed again.
“There was a defender there,” Mason said. “But I trusted my shot.”
After a stop defensively, Nixa received two free throws from Isaiah Engelman and six from Gordon over the final :29.
Mason scored all 18 of his points after halftime. Not able to find his stroke from 3-point land in the first half, his plan at intermission was to see if he could produce inside the arc.
“I was trying to get good shots and not rush anything. I had good looks in the first half, but felt sped up,” Mason said. “The past couple of games, my shot has been a little off. So, I decided to go to the rim. It’s hard to miss layups. I was slow getting to the rim in the first half. I couldn’t get any penetration. But I got to the rim a lot in the second half.
“I kept taking it to the rim and it was working most of the time, whether it was mid-range or going to the hole all the way.”
Along the way, the Eagles erased what had been as much as an 11-point Ozark lead.
Mason and his teammates had to be mindful not to take themselves out of the game mentally after their ugly first half. Nixa put up only 13 points in the first 16 minutes. Mason was scoreless. Ace Akers, after scoring 25 points against Ozark last week, had only two first-half points, as did Gordon.
Ozark was up 22-13 at halftime, but easily could have had a more comfortable margin. The Tigers made just 6-of-13 free throws in the first half.
Mason took pride that his early struggles didn’t overwhelm him.
“I had to stay cool and couldn’t let anything get to my head,” Mason said. “Being scoreless going into the second half and what did we have 11 points (actually 13) on four field goals, I couldn’t let myself get down and give up because this is it. I had to pick myself up and get going.”
The Eagles outscored the Tigers 31-22 over the third and fourth quarters.
“We dug ourselves out,” said Gordon, who had a clutch 3 in the fourth quarter. “We told each other that we weren’t backing down. We kept our motivation to push harder and push ourselves to the max. It didn’t matter how tired we were.”
“Credit to them, they did what they had to do to win the game,” Ozark coach Mark Schweitzer said.
The Tigers had been in control for most of regulation due to two unlikely contributors.
Christian Drake, a mostly anonymous senior center, challenged to outscore Nixa all by himself for a good while. He had 12 points in the first half, just one behind the Eagles. Drake finished with a career-high 16 points.
“He’s a senior who backed up a junior (A.J. Elliott) all year long and had a great attitude about it,” Schweitzer said. “I told him in the pre-season what I envisioned his role was. He took the whole season in stride. He never batted an eye or said a word. He really never had a negative moment all season. The kid’s a rock star.”
Drake received a rare start primarily to help Ozark’s rebounding efforts, after Nixa burned the Tigers on the boards last week.
“I went to him tonight because I thought he could help us,” Schweitzer said. “He made me look good and bad at the same time. I should have done that earlier in the season probably. He was wonderful tonight and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
In addition, seldom-used sophomore Blaine Cline played plenty and scored eight points.
Nixa finally paid more attention to Drake in the late going. He had just two points after the third quarter. Elliott also had only two points after the third quarter.
Ozark needed its 3-point shooters to step up to fend off Nixa’s rally. But it didn’t happen. The Tigers had just two treys, about four off their winning pace from mid-season.
Ozark missed three shots that more than likely would have been game-winners.
After working the final :51 off the clock in regulation, the Tigers failed to set themeless up for a good shot. Kristian Cooper was forced to take an off-balanced 15-footer at the buzzer while guarded closely by Mason. It was well off target.
Closing out the first overtime, Troy Davidson was short on a 3-point attempt with :04 remaining. Cooper intercepted Nixa’s ensuing in-bounds pass and heaved a half-court shot that was too strong off the backboard.
“My heart started beating a lot faster and I was running out of breath when I saw him throw it up from half-court,” Gordon said. “I was worried that, ‘This is it.’ When I saw it hit the back of the backboard and bounce off, I was thankful.”
Nixa has Wednesday off before meeting Kickapoo at 7:45 p.m. Thursday in the District final.
The Chiefs (20-4) rallied to beat Branson 64-56 in Tuesday’s other semifinal. The Pirates, who beat Glendale on Saturday for their first post-season win since 2011, led Kickapoo by nine points at halftime.
OZARK (54) — Cline 3 2-2 8, Holzer 2 4-4 9, Ramsdell 2 2-4 6, Cooper 0 2-2 2, Flavin 1 0-0 3, Riwa 1 0-3 2, Elliott 1 6-8 8, Drake 7 2-4 16. Totals 17 18-29 54.
NIXA (61) — Long 2 0-0 4, Engelman 1 5-6 7, Roemen 3 3-4 9, Gordon 3 8-8 6, Akers 0 5-6 5, Mason 6 6-9 18, Wofford 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 29-33 61.
Ozark 13 9 9 13 4 6 - 54
Nixa 5 8 13 18 4 13 - 61
3-point goals — Gordon 2, Holzer, Flavin.