The Monroe City boys basketball team turned a slim halftime lead into a strong second half, defeating Mark Twain 59-42 to reach the title game of its own tournament.
Monroe City boys basketball coach Brock Edris was not happy with the effort his players displayed for most of the first half against Mark Twain on Wednesday night.
The No. 4-seeded Tigers gave the top-seeded Panthers their best shot for the first 16 minutes of play.
During a timeout in the second quarter, Edris delivered a message to his team that could be heard across town.
It was received loud and clear, as the Panthers turned a 1-point halftime lead into a 59-42 win in the semifinals of their own tournament.
“We had a lot of things to do better,” the Panthers coach said of his first-half frustrations. “I felt like Mark Twain was a lot more aggressive in the first half.”
A drive by Corbin Eckler gave the Tigers a 19-17 lead with 2 minutes, 2 seconds left in the first half.
Kaelin Kendrick-O’Bryan put the Panthers back ahead with a corner three on the next possession.
Monroe City would not relinquish the lead.
Mark Twain missed the front end of a 1-and-bonus free throw with 48 seconds left and missed two more shots from the charity stripe in the final seconds of the first half.
“We just are not a very good free throw shooting team right now,” Tigers coach Cody McCann said. “We are working on them in practice and doing well, we just can’t get them to fall during games.”
Monroe City used a 14-4 spurt in the first four minutes of the third period to extend its lead to double digits.
Zach Osborn capped the run with an old-fashioned 3-point play after coming up with a steal near midcourt.
The Panthers also created high-percentage shots throughout the final two periods by making extra passes to free open players.
Jess Greiman benefited the most, as the senior scored 10 of his 12 points after the break. All five made shots from the field in the second half came inside the paint.
“We are not a team with a lot of size so we are not going to try and isolate a lot of players down on the blocks,” Edris explained of his offense. “So we have to move the ball and find the open guy, which the guys did a great job of doing in the second half.”
The Panthers carried a 41-30 lead heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Greiman scored on back-to-back possessions in part of the Panthers scoring six straight times down the court. C.E. Talton capped the impressive scoring streak with a driving layup with 2:55 left in the game, extending the Panthers lead to 56-37.
“They just came out and outplayed us in the second half,” McCann said of the Panthers. “They are a great team and I told the boys at halftime this was their (Monroe City) home court and they were going to come out ready to play in the second half and that is what happened.”
Monroe City made 15 of 25 shots (60 percent) from the field in the second half.
Talton led the Panthers with a team-high 16 points, while Greiman and Osborn tallied 12 apiece.
O’Bryan and Michael Ryan each came off the bench to toss in six points a piece.
“Those guys gave us great minutes tonight,” Edris said of Greiman and his two reserve players.
Mark Twain was led by Eckler’s game-high 20 points.
“He had a great game and created a spark for us tonight,” McCann said. “Now we just have to be able to put together a complete game and not just stop at halftime.”
Grant Peters added 13 points and nine rebounds in the loss.
Monroe City (4-0) advances to Saturday’s championship game and will face the winner of Palmyra and Louisiana.
Mark Twain will play in the third-place game on Saturday.