Kicking off the 25th annual Freeman Lady Eagle Classic by playing in front of a packed house with the entire student body and much of the faculty in attendance in an early afternoon game, the Joplin girls basketball team used a momentum-changing run in the second quarter to build an insurmountable lead on the way to a 49-32 win over Blue Valley West on Thursday.
“I am sure the (student body) appreciated getting out of class for an afternoon to watch some basketball and we appreciate getting to show off all of the hard work,” Joplin coach Luke Floyd said of the atmosphere. “I told our team earlier that as girl athletes, not only do you have to win, but you have to win several times for people to notice you. To have people come and see that we are a really good basketball team with some good players, it’s exciting for them to get recognized and rewarded with a big crowd like that.”
With the win, the Eagles match up with Farmington at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in the semifinals. Farmington defeated Leavenworth 77-26 in the opening round.
“Obviously, we want to win a championship, but our goal is to get two wins every tournament,” Floyd said. “I told the girls that I couldn’t remember the last time this team made it to the championship semifinals, much less the chance to play for a championship. We are real excited to get back tomorrow. I think we are going to be a much improved basketball team tomorrow.”
Joplin took the initial lead in the first quarter and never relinquished it through the first break, 9-7, but a 3-pointer from BVW’s Meghan Fries to give the Jaguars a 10-7 advantage to open the second period of play.
The Eagles responded with a momentum-swinging 11-0 run to gain a 20-10 foothold with two minutes to play in the first half. Riley Kelly started off the run with a charity before Brooke Nice came up with a steal for a layup on the break. Ella Hafer grabbed an offensive board for a putback, with Scarlett Floyd and Izzy Yust following with baskets inside. Brynn Driver closed the run with a pair of free throws at the two-minute mark.
“There is not one or two girls who you can key on with us,” Floyd said of the scoring capabilities his team has. “On any given night, we have four or five girls who can go off for 15 or 20. For me, the best teams I have had coaching have had five or six girls who averaged from eight to 12 points per game. If we can have that balance, we will be pretty good.”
Joplin ultimately closed the first half on a 17-4 spurt thanks to a 3-pointer from Nice and a three-point play from Emma Floyd for a 26-14 advantage at the intermission.
“It started with the defense,” Floyd said of the Eagles’ second-quarter surge. “I thought we had a lot of nerves early in front of the big crowd. We were just moving in slow motion. In the second quarter, we got a big spurt of energy where we were able to get out and get some transition buckets. When we are five girls playing as one, we are a pretty good basketball team. … For about four five minutes (in that second quarter) everything just clicked and we showed what kind of basketball team we are capable of being.”
Blue Valley West cut the lead to nine points twice midway through the third period before the Eagles put the game out of reach with an 8-0 run highlighted by a 3-pointer from Nice and a pair of baskets from Kelly to push the lead back out to 45-26 with 55 seconds left in the period.
The Jaguars never made a serious run at the lead over the final eight minutes of action.
HONORING A MILESTONE
Prior to the tipoff of the Eagles and Jaguars, Coach Floyd was honored after earning his 300th career win in the victory over Springdale in the CJ Classic last week.
“It means I had a lot of really good players that overcame their coaching along the way,” Floyd said with a smile. “I love what I do, but I am nothing without the good players that I’ve had and I’ve been blessed to have so many of them over the years.”
Driver and Nice each led Joplin with 12 points apiece, while Hafer had eight and Emma Floyd seven. Kelly finished with six in the win.
Lily Ba led Blue Valley West with 14 points, while Fries finished with 12 in the loss.