Eugene tops Blair Oaks for district title
Sunday, March 2, 2014
WARDSVILLE, Mo. — With an offense as high-octane played by the Eugene boys basketball team, it’s easy to forget the Eagles also play at the other end of the floor.
Perhaps Saturday night will change that.
The Eagles used a stifling defense to limit the Blair Oaks Falcons all game long, and Eugene rode it to a 58-40 win in the championship game of the Class 3 District 8 Tournament.
“They don’t get a lot of credit for their defense because they are so potent offensively that that’s all you ever read about,” Blair Oaks coach Ryan Fick said. “We held them about 20 points below their average and I was really happy with our defensive effort. But they held us 30 points below our average. So that’s the ball game right there.”
Eugene held Blair Oaks’ leading scorer, Kory Franks, to just four points and limited him to just six shots. That came after a couple of games where Eugene coach Craig Engelbrecht wasn’t so pleased with the Eagles on defense.
“We really worked hard in practice (Friday) on not letting Franks get open for a shot because he totally destroyed Versailles in the semifinal game — he got the crowd into it, got their team into it,” Eugene coach Craig Engelbrecht said. “He was our No. 1 responsibility and I told Austin Russell, if he scores a 3, you’re coming out of the game. He took that to heart.”
After a low-scoring first half, which saw Eugene lead 10-8 after one quarter and 24-21 at halftime, things started to heat up in the third quarter. After Cameron Massman drilled a jumper to put the Eagles up 30-23, part of a huge night for the senior center, the Falcons made one last push.
After Franks made his only 3-pointer of the night, the Falcons blocked a shot at the other end and it resulted in another 3, this one by Seth Eskens.
“They ran an excellent set for Kory Franks and knocked the 3 down and then for some reason, we lost Eskens and he made a 3,” Engelbrecht said. “They had the momentum going, but our guys never changed expression. They just kind of play. Our motto this year is, ‘We play.’ Don’t look at the scoreboard, just play, and I think they lived that out tonight.”
Down just 30-29 at that point, the Falcons went cold at the worst time. Blair Oaks scored on just one of its final nine possessions of the quarter, and while Eugene wasn’t much better, the Eagles went into the fourth quarter with a 35-31 lead and the momentum.
“We had multiple possessions where we could have taken the lead and you never know how things go if you take that lead,” Fick said. “We just were never able to do that.”
The Eagles came up with a big fourth quarter, knocking down 8-of-11 shots while outscoring the Falcons 23-9, as Blair Oaks shot just 2-of-10.
“Late in the fourth quarter, we just could not finish at the basket, and they’re a team that, with the way that they can score, they can get away from you really quick,” Fick said.
While Shaw had 23 points to the Eagles in scoring, as is the norm, Massman came up huge in the Eagles’ first game since becoming the top-ranked team in the state in Class 3. Starting with a banked-in 3 in the second quarter, followed quickly by another that hit nothing but net, Massman hit six of his final seven shots in the game to end up with 14 points.
“I felt pretty good,” Massman said. “Coach gave me the green light to shoot (Friday) and I was like, ‘Really?’”
As for that first shot, the senior said he was just glad he sent one too long on a straightaway shot.
“I shot that one and I was like, ‘That’s going to be way long,’” he said. “It just happened to bounce in and it set me off. I was not expecting this at all. My season high is 21, so 14 is a big number for me.”
Engelbrecht said Massman’s offense has been coming around late in the season.
“(Friday) at practice we changed our offensive set and put him at the top of the key,” Engelbrecht said. “He said, ‘Does this mean I have the green light to shoot the 3?’ And I said, ‘You’ll have the green light as long as we think you deserve it.’ … He will tell you that he’s our best 3-point shooter, we just don’t let him shoot enough. So he does not lack for confidence.
“I was really proud he stepped up, because we really needed that.”
The Eagles played almost flawless with the ball, as they had only two turnovers in the final three quarters and just seven for the game. And with their point guard, Shaw, missing some key time with foul trouble in the first half, the total becomes even more impressive.
“They had some guys come in and play solid and not do anything to hurt them,” Fick said. “When you’ve got guys coming off the bench and you still only turn the ball over seven times in a game, you’ve got to give them a lot of credit, it’s that simple.”
Blair Oaks was led in scoring by the 12 points of Haydn Lock, one of eight seniors to play their final game for Blair Oaks (20-7). The others include Eskens, Logan Bax, Ryan Wilbers, Joey Bernskoetter, Ross Burlbaw, Logan Gratz and Chandler Haxton.
“Most of thse guys have played varsity for the last two years and have put together two really nice seasons,” Fick said. “They’ve grown as young men, they really have. Any time you have eight seniors, accepting roles becomes a really important thing for a team and these guys really came together as a team. I’m very proud of them for that. I think they made their school and community proud.”
Meanwhile, Eugene (25-1) will advance to the sectional round at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Mexico High School against unranked Palmyra (22-5). The Eagles’ last trip to the sectionals came in 2008, when they lost to Hogan Prep, which went on to claim third place in the state.
“We haven’t won a district for a while, so these guys can revel in this and then we’ll get ready to go play Palmyra,” Engelbrecht said.
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