Nixa’s season ended the way it began and played out much too often, with the Eagles adding to their season-long frustrations by failing to hold onto a lead while sputtering in the clutch.
Coach Jay Osborne completed his 30th season courtside Thursday. But he certainly hasn’t grown immune to the pain of losses the like of Nixa’s 48-45 setback to Kickapoo in the Class 5 District 11 championship game.
The Eagles held a 45-40 lead with 2:15 to play but had no answer during the Chiefs’ 8-0 surge to close things out.
“It’s disappointing, heartbreaking,” Osborne said.
Heartbreaking was theme of Nixa’s 15-13 season. The Eagles dropped seven games by a total margin of 15 points. They were 2-7 in games decided by three points or less, including two losses to Kickapoo by a total five points.
Kickapoo (21-4) improved to 5-0 in games decided by three points or less.
Nixa seemed well on its way toward ending its disturbing trend. The Eagles not only held a five-point lead at the 2:15 mark of the fourth quarter, but had the benefit of five timeouts remaining to call upon, if needed.
But back-to-back turnovers in the final 1:40 capped Nixa’s frustrations at the finish.
Kickapoo was applying defensive pressure during both giveaways, but Osborne felt the turnovers could have been avoided.
“We handed the ball over to them, that’s unacceptable,” Osborne said. “Our kids played really hard. We had the score where we wanted it. We’re up 45-40. We put ourselves in position to succeed and win a District championship on someone else’s home floor. But we didn’t get it done. We let them right back in it.
“You’ve got to make plays late and quit handing them the ball. We can’t fault any one person. If we get trapped, we need to have guys help him out.”
Osborne lamented the fact the Eagles didn’t try to bail themselves out of trouble upon getting trapped by calling a timeout.
“We had timeouts to burn,” he said. “I probably should have called a timeout in there. I tried to, but no one was looking at me. But they’re instructed to call a timeout if they get in a hassle. I should have done a little better job coaching and we probably would have won.
“We had opportunities to win and didn’t do it. Credit Kickapoo.”
The Chiefs’ comeback saw David Senn score on a putback to make it 45-42, Tanner Oetting net a 3-pointer with 1:20 to play to tie things up at 45 and Anton Brookshire swish a game-winning 3 with :2.4 left.
After Oetting’s 3, Nixa called a timeout at the 1:15 mark. The Eagles emerged with intentions of working the clock. But they turned the ball over with :51 remaining.
Kickapoo proceeded to hold onto the ball without defensive pressure. With :08 to play, Brookshire went 1-on-1 off a ball screen. He dribbled to the top of the key, took one step forward, jumped back behind the arc and made a relatively wide-open 3 from the top of the key.
“We gave him too much space,” Osborne said.
It was Brookshire’s first bucket since he also hit a 3 a minute into the fourth quarter. He finished with 20 points. Oetting had 13.
After Brookshire’s shot, Nixa called a timeout with :2.1 to go. In-bounding the ball under Kickapoo's bucket, the Eagles got the ball to Josh Mason. He received the pass at half-court and dribbled 15-20 feet before launching a 3 from 25-30 feet out that was off target. The attempt appeared to come after the final buzzer. It was surprising, anyway, that he was able to get the look he did without the buzzer having already sounded.
Mason finished with a team-high 15 points during a duel with Brookshire. Jason Jones and Isaiah Engelman added eight as they fought for everything they could get opposite Senn's strong interior defense.
In addition to its two late turnovers, Nixa made only 1-of-3 free throws over the final 3:36. One miss was the front end of a one-and-one trip to the foul line.
The Eagles’ biggest lead on the night was six. They held the upper hand the majority of the night, including at the end of each of the first three quarters.
“I applaud our kids for their effort,” Osborne said. “We had some kids play extremely hard and play really well. They did what we asked. We were getting after it. It was a well-fought game. It was our game.”
Kickapoo moves on Sectionals to face Friday's Willard-Republic winner.
NIXA (45) — Mason 15, Jones 8, Engelman 8, Gordon 4, Roemen 4, Long 4, Akers 2.
KICKAPOO (48) — Brookshire 20, Oetting 13, McIntire 5, Senn 4, Bridgers 4, Liggins 2.
Nixa 16 8 12 9 — 45
Kickapoo 12 11 12 13 — 48