Owls one win from playoff spot
MOBERLY -- Defending Class 4, District 9 Tournament boys' champion Eldon made one critical mistake Wednesday: it tried to run with the Marshall Owls.
The second-seeded Mustangs were a solid team, but the fast pace benefited No. 3 Marshall -- if only for brief, if decisive, moments -- during its 55-47 semifinal victory.
"Great athletes can make great plays, and our great athletes are making things happen because of their hard work," remarked MHS head coach Mike Baker about his team of runners and leapers. "That's extremely important to our style of play."
Initially, Eldon set the tempo with its patience on offense, a three-pointer by junior Tyler Schmidt staking it to an 11-2 lead. That wasn't all that was plaguing the Owls, not with referee Dan Luebbert on the floor.
Luebbert called two charges, one of them legitimate and the other questionable, and a suspect blocking call on Marshall during a one-minute span of the first quarter. He then whistled traveling when junior Devin Moon was undercut and crashed to the floor on an offensive rebound and senior Lee Standley was tripped while driving during the second period.
If the game was more physical than one in which the Owls' customarily thrive, at least they had senior Corrick Crawford to bang for their side. He came up with 10 first-half points, making back-to-back steals for two free throws and a fast-break basket early in the second frame.
"Just when we needed it, Corrick ignited the offense," Baker said. "It was a tremendous effort."
The Mustangs led by five points when junior Justin Kliethermes drove to the hole with 5:40 left in the half, but didn't score again before the break -- coughing the ball up four times and missing nine straight shots.
"We could tell they were getting tired, so it was time to put on the press," Baker said. "It started creating turnovers."
Standley made two goals and assisted two others during a 10-0 run, capped by Crawford's baseline 15-footer for a 23-18 Marshall advantage at halftime.
A stick-back by 6-foot-8 senior Cody Kliethermes closed the gap to four points early in the third quarter, but two free throws by senior Randy Ritter and sophomore Anthony Thompson's steal for a transition goal pushed the margin to seven.
Eldon wouldn't go away, though, and the Owls couldn't pull away -- especially with their inability to make jump shots, going 0 for 12 from outside the arc during the contest. However, Marshall got enough in the paint and on the break -- Thompson and Ritter getting loose -- to keep the spread at seven with six minutes remaining in the game.
"For us to score 55 points and not make a jump shot, it tells me we got a lot of lay-ups and transition baskets," Baker explained. "If something's not working, we'll try something else."
Senior Curtis King and Schmidt finished fast breaks, junior Matt Miller and Kliethermes struck from outside and King sank two free throws as the Mustangs tied the game with 53.4 seconds to go.
Then, inexplicably, Crawford was fouled near mid-court. He made only the first of two charity shots, but Moon cleaned the glass, was hacked and hit two from the line. The Owls clinched the win at the stripe -- making 12 of 15 during the final 1:09, including four in a row by Standley.
"That's something we weren't very good at, but we've worked on all year," Baker said. "It's starting to pay off in these big games."
Kliethermes topped Eldon (18-7) with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Crawford had 18 points and 12 boards for Marshall (15-11) -- which plays Fulton for the third time this season, each club winning at home, in Friday's title tilt after the Hornets upset eighth-ranked NCMC regular season champion Kirksville, 51-40.
"Our goal from Day One was to win a district championship," Baker declared. "The guys bought into it and now we're playing for a district championship."