NIXA – Branson High School’s boys’ basketball team already was facing a tall task on Tuesday night, visiting Central Ozark Conference rival and power Nixa.
The Eagles came in with a 10-10 record, and one of those victories was an 84-41 dismantling of Branson in the opening round of the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament in December.
The task only got more difficult before the game, when Branson senior Kyler Efird, at 6-foot-3 one of the team’s most dependable post players, was ruled out with the flu.
That spelled trouble, with Nixa able to put quality big men Isaiah Engleman (6-foot-6), Luke Roemen (6-foot-4) and Tanner Collard (6-foot-7) on the floor.
“I knew their bigs were going to hurt us, with our lack of size,” Branson coach Mike Linehan said.
“Then when Kyler went out just before the game with the flu, that hurt us bad.”
Branson’s guard play kept the Pirates in the game for the first half, before the Eagles pulled away for a 79-54 victory.
The loss sent Branson (8-13) to its third consecutive loss, going into a Friday night home game against Neosho.
Roemen scored 12 first-quarter points and finished with 20 for the Eagles, who stretched a 36-27 halftime lead to 49-37 after three quarters and as many as 26 points in the final quarter.
“Without our starting center out there for us, their big (Roemen) killed us,” Linehan said. “With Kyler down low guarding him, that would have made things a lot different. They wouldn’t have scored so easy on us.
“That’s your goal when you’re playing a stud like that, you do whatever you can to limit him. You’re not going to hold him scoreless, but you want to limit him. I didn’t feel like we limited him very well in the first half.”
Branson’s guards helped the Pirates stay close over the first two quarters.
Senior Trey Benard finished with a team-high 20 points, scoring six of Branson’s first nine points.
He had a personal eight-point run, ending with a mid-range jumper, then a steal and layup, to give Branson a 13-12 lead.
The Pirates led by as many as four points in the second quarter, with Jonathan Hale feeding Aaron Whited for a layup, then D’Shawn Craigg draining a 3-pointer and dishing to Whited for another layup, for a 24-20 advantage. Nixa ended the half with a 16-3 run, keyed by back-to-back treys from Brandon Gordon.
“That was my hope, that if their bigs were going to get a two, we’d come down and get a three,” Linehan said. “It worked for a while, and we had the lead on them and everything. Then we went cold and their bigs kept hurting us.”
Whited finished with 11 points and helped Nixa’s talented corps of guards from putting the game away early. He had to take on an increased role when Craigg went out with an ankle injury and missed a big chunk of the middle of the game before returning late.
“I liked some things we did defensively against their guards,” Linehan said. “I thought we played very well against their guards, they didn’t hurt us from the outside until late when it got desperation mode and out of hand.
“It was nice to see Aaron Whited step up. He’s shooting it well and he’s a senior. He’s had a few good shooting nights for us.”