Nevada Daily Mail
"Will we take a two-point win over Webb City anytime we can get it? Absolutely, particularly when it's this quality of a basketball team that we played."
It may not have been pretty and was still in question right up until the final buzzer, but head coach John McNeley's Nevada Tigers rekindled their long and storied rivalry with Webb City at Wynn Gymnasium Tuesday night and for the first time in recent memory, came out on top of a hard-fought contest, beating the Cardinals by a final score of 67-65 in a contest that ended much closer than it could have after Webb City came back from an 18-point deficit.
"I think the point that needs to be stressed there is the fact that we had an 18-point lead that allowed us to withstand that," McNeley said. "And that's a great basketball team."
The Tigers came into the night with a substantial measure of momentum after winning the Clinton tournament last week, but everyone knew it would take one of the best performances McNeley's squad has had all year to beat the Cardinals. Coming into the night, head coach Landon Cornish's Cardinals were a heavy favorite as they entered the contest 15-3 on the year after winning their last nine games dating back to Dec. 29 and have had the better of the rivalry for nearly as long as anyone can remember.
"That's a 15-3 basketball team that's played great competition," McNeley said. "I mean, that's not a soft 15-3."
The Tigers wasted little time putting the pressure on as they came out firing on all cylinders. Strong defensive play, rebounding and shooting all helped the Tigers build a 13-12 lead after a quarter that grew to 35-20 by halftime.
Just like he did against Knob Noster in the Clinton tournament championship game, Silas Smith gave the Tigers a much-needed offensive spark with 18 points in the opening half. He was joined in double figures by Nathan Colopy, who had 10 of his own to help the Tigers take a 15-point lead into the game's final 16 minutes.
Things changed dramatically in the second half as the Cardinals picked up the physicality, hammering on both Colopy and Smith nearly every trip down the floor.
It was to the point in time to where you hope their physicality does not become a factor to the extent that it did. There were fouls in the second half that, you know, were not called and that added a little bit to their comeback, but, you know, that's all part of it," McNeley said.
"You just hope that its a level playing field. I don't know that it was, but you know, it doesn't hurt us to have to overcome things like that."
Those uncalled fouls and that increased level of physicality gave the Cardinals a distinct edge as the second half began. Despite holding a comfortable, 56-38 lead after three quarters, the Tigers were far from able to relax as Webb City started the fourth with an 11-0 run to cut Nevada's lead to just seven.
"I thought a run like that might come a little earlier in the ballgame and it never did," McNeley said. "I don't know about our kids, I felt that was a possibility."
Webb City eventually completed the comeback and took a 61-60 lead, but the Tigers never gave up, using a strong performance at the free-throw line down the stretch to regain the lead heading into the final seconds.
Up 67-65, the Tigers weren't necessarily out of the woods yet as the Cardinals had possession with five capable shooters on the floor. Senior Phoenix Johnson had a chance to send the game into overtime as he let a six-foot jump shot go just before the final buzzer sounded, but the shot flew just a few inches long, bouncing off the rim and falling harmlessly to the floor as Wynn Gymnasium erupted with the screams of excited players and fans.
Smith finished the contest as Nevada's leading scorer as he put up 28 points. Colopy wasn't far behind as he finished with 20. Despite taking a hard fall in the first half that nearly took him out of the game, Lane Ketterman joined Colopy and Smith in double figures as well with 12.
As a team, the Tigers finished 16-for-27 from the free-throw line, including an 11-for-18 showing in the second half to ice the game. The Cardinals, on the other hand, finished 5-for-8, 3-for-6 in the second half.
With the win, the Tigers improved to 12-5 and will be back in action on Friday, when they host Lamar. The first of three games on the schedule that night is set to tip off at 5 p.m., inside Wynn Gymnmasium.