ROGERSVILLE — With basketball burnout usually trying to rear its ugly head in January, Friday’s Nixa-Rogersville contest offered a break in the monotony.
Seemingly out of nowhere, an official whistled the Eagles’ Josh Mason for carrying the ball in the second half. It was a rare and curious reprise of an outdated rule that, if enforced, could actually be called all night every night.
“Every kid in southwest Missouri carries the basketball,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said.
No matter, the Eagles went on to net a 41-37 triumph that avenged a Blue & Gold Tournament semifinal loss to the same Wildcats.
There was also a blast from the past courtesy of Eagles hotshot Kaleb Wofford. By design, Wofford re-introduced the shot-fake to those on hand. He converted two fakes into buckets during his decisive 17-point performance.
Osborne enjoyed the shot-fake much more than the carry call.
“Kaleb pump-faked a few tonight and let (the defender) fly by,” Osborne said. “What a shock, the lost art of the shot-fake. It used to be an everyday thing, now it’s not.”
“I’m sure their scouting report on me was to close out pretty hard because they were doing that for the most part,” Wofford said. “Every shot I was taking, they were closing out on me so fast because they were expecting me to shoot it. I figured I would get them with the shot-fake and it worked.”
Wofford hadn’t shown off his mid-range jumper much prior to Friday. He entered the game having made 30-of-65 3-point attempts in 11 games, to go along with 10-of-22 shooting on 2-point tries. Of his six field goals at Rogersville, he split them evenly outside and inside the arc.
With every bucket on the defensive night being a big bucket, there was no more pivotal shot than Wofford’s 3-pointer to end the third quarter.
The buzzer-beater gave Nixa a 29-25 lead. The recharged Eagles went on to hold as much as a nine-point advantage in the fourth quarter.
“It was a good momentum booster,” Wofford said. “It always feels nice when you hit a tough shot.”
Nixa went on to secure its win by hitting 8-of-11 free throws in the fourth quarter. Collin Ruffin, a sophomore sub, provided capable ball-handling and made 5-of-6 freebies down the stretch.
“They can foul him all they want because he’ll make them,” Osborne said. “He doesn’t get rattled. That’s the type of kid we need in the fourth quarter because all of our games are going to be close. We’re not going to have any blowouts, with the style of ball we’re playing and the way the area is. You’ve got to have guys who are relaxed, have faith in what we’re doing and have trust in your teammates. He does that.”
“I wanted this game bad. We definitely wanted revenge,” Ruffin said. “After the Blue & Gold (loss to Rogersville) where we should have hit our free throws, we practiced our free throws constantly. I’m glad we did because we came through in the clutch tonight.
“I try not to show any emotion,” he added. “You show any emotions and (opponents) are going to see it. I’m trying hard with the refs not to show any emotion, too.”
For a player with no pre-season publicity, Ruffin has an established role for the Eagles entering their COC opener at home Tuesday versus Willard.
“I was unsure of myself early,” Ruffin said. “But my teammates have accepted me. I feel like I’m part of the team now.”
“He’s fitting into our lineup,” Wofford said. “He plays his role. He doesn’t turn the ball over. That’s what we need out of our point guard. He’s figuring the game out well.”
The suddenly surging Eagles are 9-3 and have won seven of their last eight games. They had dropped three in a row to Rogersville dating back to last season.
“Man, it feels so good to finally get them," Wofford said. “I’ve been waiting for this game.”
Rogersville’s 37 points is a season-low.
“Our man (defense) was good most of the night and I thought our 3-2 matchup zone worked really well,” Osborne said. “We found their shooters and we rebounded better. Our effort on the glass at both ends was good.
“It’s a good win for us, something we can build on,” he added. “We had some kids show some poise. I feel we grew a little bit tonight.”
NIXA (41) — Ruffin 0 5-6 5, Combs 2 4-8 8, Mason 2 0-0 5, Wofford 6 2-3 17, Jones 3 0-0 6. Totals 13 11-18 41.
ROGERSVILLE (37) — O’Neil 3 1-1 8, Williams 0 0-1 0, Benson 1 0-0 3, Blevins 2 5-6 10, Fisher 1 0-0 2, Linehan 4 5-8 14. Totals 11 11-16 37.
Nixa 8 10 11 12 - 41
Rogersville 4 12 9 12 - 37
3-point goals - Wofford 3, Mason, Blevins, Benson, Linehan, O’Neil.