Joplin held Hillcrest without a field goal in the first quarter of action to stake the Eagles out to a comfortable lead that they would expand on throughout the remaining contest in a 50-31 win over the Hornets on Thursday inside Kaminsky Gymnasium.
Joplin’s nine-point lead after the first quarter reached as much as 18 in the first half before settling at 23-12 by halftime. The Eagles (3-11) pushed the lead to 20 late in the third and never wavered down the stretch.
“Scouting-wise, we saw that we could pressure them,” first-year Joplin coach Brad Cox said after the win. “We brought out a press early and went back to man-to-man and got after them on defense. I couldn’t be more proud of the girls. They deserved this as an overall team win offensively and defensively. We got a lot of points and steals from a lot of different people, so it made it worthwhile.
“We got the monkey off our back after being in a little bit of a drought. We have been working hard. This was nice to see for the girls.”
Joplin set the tone in the first quarter on the defensive end, limiting Hillcrest (5-13) to just four free throws in the first quarter after holding the Hornets without a field goal through the first eight minutes.
“That is one of our pillars,” Cox said. “We take pride in our defense. It was all effort. With everything in life, if you put in a lot of effort, good things will come. Our effort was everywhere—we were in passing lanes, pressuring the ball. Overall, it was just great defense.”
While the Eagles defense was busy doing its job, Joplin started the game with a 9-0 run on the offensive end through the first four minutes of action. Alissa Owens opened with a mid-range jumper before earning a steal that led to a mid-range bucket from Serafina Auberry. The opening surge was capped with an offensive rebound and putback score by Auberry before Riley Kelly scored on an inside dive with 4:10 on the clock.
Following two pairs of free throws by Hillcrests’ Amaya Burris, Joplin closed out the first quarter with a steal off the inbounds by Owens followed by a putback and a driving score by Maria Loum just before the horn for a 13-4 advantage.
“She is going to be a special player,” Cox said of Owens’ performance. “Being a freshman in Class 6, it’s tough. She shows a lot of hustle and heart. … She is an incredibly hard worker and I can’t wait to see what the future brings for her.”
The Eagles started the second quarter on a 10-1 run to build an 18-point, 23-5 lead. Bailey Ledford started the period with a 3-ball from the corner and added another triple from the wing with the banks open following an inside score by Auberry to make the score 21-5 with 5:30 on the clock. Izzy Yust added two charity makes to reach the 18-point lead.
The Hornets closed the first half on 7-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Camryn Summers to trim the Eagles’ lead to 23-12 at the intermission.
“We had zero turnovers in 15 possessions but we didn’t score on nine of those possessions,” Cox said of his team’s second period. “The second quarter has kind of been our Achilles’ heel this year, and it was again tonight.”
Joplin’s intensity didn’t let up in the second half, as the Eagles opened the third quarter with the first eight points of the second half to push the margin to 31-12. Ledford and Yust had inside baskets, while Kelly knocked down a 3-pointer.
Later in the quarter, Kelly converted a baseline jumper before back to back 3-pointers from Libby Munn (in the corner) and Yust (from the top of the key) gave Joplin a game-high 20-point cushion, 40-20, with less than a minute to play in the third quarter.
“That was crucial,” Cox said about expanding the lead back out to 20 late in the third quarter, fueling the win down the stretch. “That is why we talk about coming out and getting a couple of stops and a couple of scores to start the second half. … We just challenged the girls in the locker room not to run from fear, but to run right at it. They did that tonight.”
Auberry and Yust each had 10 points to lead Joplin in scoring, while Kelly and Ledford finished with eight apiece in the win. Owens finished with seven points.
“Besides the second quarter, we did a great job,” Cox said of the effort on the offensive end in the win. “I felt like the ball movement tonight was so much better than it’s been. If you watched this team in November to now, it’s night and day. Even with the loss of Brynn (Driver). I felt like we did a great job moving the ball to the post and making some plays, and we hit some 3s when we had the opportunity.”
Joplin hosts Springfield Central on Tuesday.