Eagles thwart Tigers comeback in title-game thriller, 62-58
CARTHAGE, Mo. — Despite a furious fourth quarter rally the top-seeded Nevada Tigers were denied a second consecutive Carthage Invitational championship, falling to the No. 2 seed Joplin Eagles, 62-58, in Saturday night's title game.
Nevada trailed 55-40 midway through the fourth quarter before going on an 18-3 run, punctuated by Braeden Hinton's game-tying 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:12 remaining. With the game tied 58-58 Joplin milked the clock before getting the ball to senior guard Braeden Testerman, who buried the go-ahead 3-pointer from the left corner with 27 seconds showing on the clock. Testerman's triple was the Eagles 13th of the game.
Looking to tie the game Nevada senior Clay Gayman handed off to freshman point guard Logan Applegate on the left wing. Applegate had a clean look but was off-target, and Joplin grabbed the rebound. Joplin then iced the contest at the charity stripe, with sophomore guard Isaiah Davis knocking down 1-of-2 free throws, sealing the Eagles victory.
Key to Joplin's fortunes was their ability slow Nevada forward Clay Gayman, who entered the contest averaging 24 points a game. Gayman had just three points at halftime, and six through three quarters of play.
Joplin head coach Jeff Hafer said the game-plan was centered on stopping Gayman.
"We wanted to make it really difficult for him when he did touch the ball," Hafer told the Daily Mail, as Gayman was forced to deal with constant double-teams. "And then the hope is that you can make him take a contested jumper, because he does so many things well."
Added Hafer: "We gambled a little bit from the standpoint that we were going to make some other guys beat us from the perimeter. And we were fortunate that they didn't start hitting threes until late in the game."
Gayman did finally heat up as Nevada began to create turnovers, leading to transition points. Gayman finished with a flurry, scoring 17 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.
"He got loose," said Hafer. "Good players are going to do that, he really asserted himself. We got a little tight (late), and didn't execute."
Other key moments during Nevada's big fourth quarter blitz included five consecutive points from Carter Swearingen, as the junior guard's difficult lay-in with 3:34 remaining in regulation trimmed Joplin's lead to 55-47. Gayman then scored the next six points as Nevada trailed 56-53 with 2:30 remaining.
In dire need of a bucket Joplin went to go-to scorer Evan Guilory, and the 6-2 sophomore drove in from the left perimeter for the lay-in, handing the Eagles a 58-53 advantage with 1:52 left.
On the ensuing possession Gayman received a pass near the free throw line and knifed into the paint, going up for the basket that sliced Joplin's lead to three with 1:30 on the clock.
Nevada quickly regained possession off a Joplin turnover and found Hinton wide open on the left wing for the game tying three pointer.
'The plan was to get Clay open on the screen," recounted Hinton, who tallied 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. "They doubled Clay, and my (defender) went down under the post. Logan Applegate, who has amazing court-vision, found me, and it felt good on the release, and it fell through."
Added Hinton: "I had been sick the entire week, and today was the first day that my body felt 100 percent, so I knew that I had a little bit more in the tank. Coming off a long tournament week, I knew that I had to come out here and give it everything that I had."
Nevada, however, wasn't able to catch the breaks it needed, as Joplin closed out on a 4-0 run, securing its first Carthage Invitational championship since 2007, and 10th overall.
Nevada head coach Shaun Gray said he was impressed with his squad's energy during the dramatic comeback.
"You have nothing to lose at that point," he said. "Our defensive energy turned the momentum. We (forced) a lot of turnovers, which led to fouls and buckets."
Added Gray: "And we were able to get Clay the ball without the lane being packed. Because of some of those steals and quick shots they took, Clay was able to get the ball before they could get into a set defense, put it down on the floor and get to the rim. Whenever we're not settling for tough jumpers, and we're getting shots at the rim, then we're hard to defend, and we drew fouls at that point too."
Gray said the title-game thriller was a good learning experience for his club
"We've got a lot of inexperience and youth — a lot of juniors, a sophomore and a freshman playing varsity. We're going to look at this, we're going to learn from it, and the next time we're in this position, hopefully we can give a better effort than we did tonight."