NEOSHO, Mo. — The Neosho Wildcats had just a little timelier defense and just a little timelier offense during their 65-62 overtime win on Friday night against state-ranked and previously one-loss Forsyth.
The Wildcats came through with some critical defensive stops during both the fourth quarter and overtime, while Neosho players like Isaiah Green, Carter Baslee, Carter Fenske and Collier Hendricks all had their big offensive moments and shots throughout a game where neither team could get ahead by any more than a few points.
Forsyth’s Zack Strahan tied it up at 62 on a three with about 25 seconds remaining in overtime, then Green drove to the basket and drew the fifth personal foul against Forsyth’s 6-foot-10 sophomore Tanner Baird with six seconds left.
Green made both free throws and the Wildcats came up with a near steal in the backcourt at 4.7 seconds. Neosho called a timeout, set up the defense, and Green came up with a steal from Forsyth’s Drue Coen with 0.8 remaining.
Green made his first free throw and Forsyth’s final contested heave did not connect as time expired on the visiting Panthers.
“Everyone probably gets sick of me saying it, but that’s what we hang our hat on is defense,” Neosho coach Zane Culp said. “We had some very timely defensive plays. The boys got that steal at the end of the fourth quarter, where we felt like we had a chance to go win it right there. That was a great defensive stop. They scored right out of the gate in overtime, then they didn’t score for a long time. We just got a bunch of stops in a row. That was big.
“As far as timely offense, Collier Hendricks came through again hitting shots just like when we felt we needed them.”
Hendricks’ back-to-back threes in the fourth quarter gave the Wildcats a 53-51 lead after Neosho had fallen behind Forsyth late in the third and early in the fourth.
The teams exchanged scoring runs like that all game and headed into overtime tied at 57.
During overtime, Neosho played seniors Green, Baslee, Fenske, Kael Smith and Brock Franklin, a group of five players with extensive varsity experience.
Baslee scored Neosho’s first five points in overtime to put the Wildcats up 62-59 and they all contributed defensively to an overtime that saw Forsyth score only five points.
“That’s a very nice luxury,” Culp said of being able to play five seniors during overtime. “We have two (Jared Siler, Michael Day) on your bench if somebody were to foul out. We know who’s got us here and how they’ve done it. You feel pretty good about throwing those five guys out there.”
Green scored a game-high 28 points and managed to maintain some aggressiveness both offensively and defensively for the final almost 10 minutes after he earned his fourth personal with 5:38 remaining in regulation.
“He’s a great defender,” Culp said. “The only thing we get on to him about defense is that he sometimes goes for steals that don’t have a good chance of happening, then he picks up fouls that way. You know what, I almost wish he started with four fouls (Friday), because I thought he played better defense after that. It made him a little more disciplined and he only took advantage when he had to, so if we can get that mindset in him … but he’s a great defender and a great player and he’s fun to watch.”
Hendricks and Baslee each had nine points for the Wildcats, Fenske added eight, Smith had four, Day three and Siler and Franklin two each.
The Wildcats improved to 14-4 overall and they own a five-game winning streak headed into Tuesday’s contest on the road against Lamar.
Friday night’s game definitely lived up to the advanced hype and great expectations.
“We knew this was going to be a dogfight until the end,” Culp said. “There was a bunch of people here, it was exciting with a state-ranked and 14-1 team coming into town with a 6-10 kid and a kid (Ryder Blevins) who won the Tournament of Champions dunk contest (2022). It was a fun game, and it went kinda exactly how we imagined.”
The Wildcats had the crowd and noise advantage with their band, their cheerleaders, and their student section all performing at their peak levels.
“I love the band,” Culp said. “We love it when the band’s here. Not only do more of our students get to see us, but it’s also louder, we have more people in here anyway, and it just makes this place hard to play in, in my opinion. We’re undefeated at home in our regular-season games (7-1 overall), and I think a big reason why is our big following.”
Forsyth provided Neosho with a challenge that measures up to a conference game.
“It sure felt that way,” Culp said. “That’s what we talked about before the game. We couldn’t have a better game before going back into conference, just getting us ready with a battle-tested team who isn’t afraid to come in here and play. That’s exactly the kind of game we were looking for when we scheduled them.”