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Combs' 46 points give same Bootheel foe fits that Russell had 47 against 45 years ago

NIXA'S KAEL COMBS eyes a layup against New Madrid County Central on Friday.
NIXA'S KAEL COMBS eyes a layup against New Madrid County Central on Friday.

Long story and good story made as short as possible, current Nixa coach Brock Blansit made the Nixa High School 1977-78 yearbook as a 5-year old when he was pictured with all-time Eagles great Kent Russell.

Blansit was a wide-eyed admirer of Russell and outfitted in a T-shirt that read 'Kent Russell Fan.'

The photo was taken in the aftermath of Russell's single-game school-record 47-point performance in the Class 2A state championship game March 4, 1978, against Libourn.

Fast forward 45 years later and Blansit was just as awestruck over Kael Combs' 46-point explosion in Nixa's 78-67 triumph versus New Madrid County Central in a semifinal at the Nixa Tournament on Friday.

"It's the best individual game I've ever coached," Blansit said, while including his career as an assistant and head coach. "I'll probably never coach in a game like that and have a player have a night like that again. Like I told him, you have to appreciate and enjoy those kind of nights. They're not going to come along very often." 

In addition to Blansit witnessing the two highest single-game scoring efforts in Nixa history, a link between Russell's 47 points and Combs' 46 is, incredibly, the somewhat same Bootheel opponent.

Libourn shut down as a high school only two years after playing for a state championship. In 1980, Libourn joined New Madrid and Parma high schools to form county-wide New Madrid County Central.

How about those odds, particularly considering Nixa and Libourn, er New Madrid, are hardly traditional opponents.

Combs' winning numbers Friday included 14-of-20 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 shooting beyond the arc and 15-of-17 shooting from the free-throw line. He also collected six assists, five rebounds and two steals.

All this after he started the game with a turnover on Nixa's first possession.

"I'm grateful to be in the position to score 46 points," Combs said. "That's a super cool number. It was one of those games in which I had a hot hand and let loose."

The game was the best testament, yet, of Combs' tremendous transition from swingman to point guard.

New Madrid was actually able to keep pace with Nixa through three quarters. But Nixa broke away in the fourth quarter, thanks to a 10-2 run to take a 71-61 lead.

A Carsten Seitz 3-pointer with 2:45 to play loomed large.

Combs absolutely flourished in the clutch, scoring 16 points in the final four minutes.

New Madrid's headliner, forward Jadis Jones, finished with 28 points and guard BJ Williamson netted 29. But Jones was scoreless over nearly a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.

New Madrid (12-6) struggled to get Jones touches when it desperately needed the ball in his hands. No such problem for Nixa and Combs, with him at the point. 

"It really is," Combs replied when asked if it's great to be a point guard this season. "The ball is always in your hands and you make most of the decisions. 

"It's harder for teams to guard me this season because I'm running to get the ball (and) my team is looking for me to bring the ball upcourt," he added. "It was tough for (Jones) because he was trying to get in areas of our zone down low and post up, where there's a lot of help. I'm getting the ball and going. In transition, where there isn't as much help." 

When Combs was in transition and met on his way to the basket by a New Madrid defender, he twice drew a foul and went on to convert a three-point play. He showed strength to shake off contact and keep himself in position to still score.

"It takes a lot of body control, but I've been training for that since I was little," Combs said. 

Combs played the entire 32 minutes.

"We ask a lot out of him," Blansit said. "I asked him if he ever gets tired and he acted like, 'Yeah, every once in a while.' I (jokingly) said, 'Tough luck, you're not coming out.' His stamina is incredible."

Noah Engelman drew three charges and Josh Peters added a dozen points in supporting roles for the winners.

Nixa (17-0) will play for its own tournament title for the third straight season in a 3:30 p.m. tip-off versus Troy (15-3), a 52-47 winner against Rogersville on Friday. 

The Eagles are looking for their first NIT championship since 2018.