Pirates unable to dig out of 24-point hole despite huge fourth quarter

Prior to Tuesday's North Central Missouri Conference showdown, the Hannibal High School student section kept track of Moberly's missed pre-game baskets with an audible running count.

Will Rucker quickly reminded fans – and everyone else on the court – that that was just practice.

Rucker, a 6-6 senior forward, erupted for seven 3-pointers and 23 points in the first half, and finished with 36 as Moberly built a healthy lead and staved off a furious Hannibal rally in a 71-62 victory at Korf Gymnasium.

“He's a tough guard for anybody,” Hannibal head coach Mark Thomas said of Rucker. “We don't have a (6-foot, 6-inch) guy in our program, let alone on our varsity team to match up with him”

Rucker took advantage of his height and the Pirates' lack of size early, towering over his defenders at the arc while knocking down his first three shots from long distance.

Hannibal (1-6, 0-2), weathered the Rucker storm early, going on a 10-3 run to tie the game at 12 with 2:14 left in the first period, but the Spartans continued finding success with the 3-ball. Savion Thorpe broke a 15-15 tie with a trey just before the first-quarter buzzer, and Moberly (4-2, 2-0) led the rest of the way.

Rucker gave the Spartans some breathing room with 14 points in the second, the last 12 coming on triples.

“I was feeling unconscious out there … it felt like everything I shot was going to go in,” Rucker said. “I've had great games shooting the ball, but I don't think I've ever hit that many threes in a half before.”

After Hannibal senior Shamar Griffith pulled the Pirates within 18-17 on a backboard jumper, Rucker answered with his only two-pointer of the half. Moments later, he dropped a trey to push the lead to four, hit another to move it to seven, and then hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 34-23 cushion late in the half.

The Pirates put together a quick spurt just before halftime on freshman Dezmond Jones' layup and a 3-pointer from senior Kasen Rademan to make it a 36-28 game at the break.

Moberly continued to have its way in the third quarter as Rucker scored 11 more points in a runaway period for the visitors. His putback at the horn ended a 9-0 run that gave the Spartans a 57-33 lead.

Hannibal had a hard time responding as a bevy of Pirate shots came up short. Senior center Dylan Powell expressed frustration with the cold streak.

“It's real frustrating … you never want to miss shots,” Powell said. “You're going to have to keep shooting. You just can't stop shooting because you're having an off night or you're not making baskets.”

Hannibal appeared to live by that philosophy in the fourth quarter, and for about the last five minutes of the game, Rucker's magic seemed to wear off on the Pirates.

After Calvin Davis gave Moberly a 59-35 lead with a hook shot, something clicked for Hannibal.

A quick flurry of offense had the Pirates within 61-49, and after a Spartan layup, Powell reeled off six straight points with two free throws, a jumper and a layup. Just like that, it was a 63-55 game with 1:50 left to play.

Several Moberly turnovers in the final minutes gave Hannibal new life, but time eventually ran out on the Pirates' comeback, as Moberly free throws kept the win in hand.

Hannibal outscored the Spartans 29-14 in the fourth quarter, with 11 points coming on 12 attempts from the free-throw line. The Pirates went just 1 of 5 from the line in the first 24 minutes.

Powell was happy his teammates fought back, but said the energy during his team's rally needs to arrive at the beginning of games, not at the end.

“I just think it shows that we can play like that all the time,” Powell said. “We can't get down however many points we were down … we've got to play better for the rest of the game.

“We've just got to come out and play with that effort and that emotion from the beginning to get us going.”

Despite the loss, Thomas was impressed with the effort his players showed at the end, but like Powell, hopes it shows up at the tip-off from now on.

“It's what we talked about after the game, that we need to start faster,” the coach said. “We've known that, we just haven't found a way to do it yet.

“I told the guys after the game, though, 'I'm proud of the effort.' I can't ask for anything better. This is as happy as you can be with a loss with the effort that they gave and the way they battled and fought.”

Powell finished with 16 points to lead Hannibal, while Griffith had 13 and Jones added 10. Thorpe followed Rucker with 13 points.

The Pirates return to the court at 7:30 p.m. on Friday with an NCMC road game against Mexico.