BY TRAVIS DAVID
SPRINGFIELD — “A group of players forming one side in a competitive game or sport.”
The above is what you will find if you look up the definition of the word team.
It should also read, “See Also Monroe City.”
It’s no secret the Monroe City boy’s basketball TEAM is not all about one or two players.
Exactly that may have been on display the brightest Friday evening in the semifinals of the Class 3 MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown inside the Hammons Center on the campus of Missouri State University against No. 5 Summit Christian Academy.
With leading scorer Joshua Talton saddled to the bench with four fouls early in the third period, the Panthers’ hopes of playing for a Class 3 state championship in 24 hours looked bleak.
Only someone forgot to tell that to Monroe City.
Less than 30 seconds after Talton headed to the bench, Lucas Poppen drained his third three-pointer of the game to give Summit Christian Academy a 22-15 lead with 5 minutes, 16 seconds left in the third period.
Then the Panthers chipped away.
Jaedyn Robertson eventually pulled Monroe City even in the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter before the Panthers pulled away in overtime for a 42-35 win and a trip into Saturday night’s state championship game.
“Dude that was insane,” Monroe City starting guard Kyle Hays said of the comeback win. “Just like last game when we got down, we did not give up. We just kept fighting…what a great game and another great environment.”
Hays also mentioned how Friday’s game was a true testament of how well they play together.
“This just goes to show you how close we are and how well we play together as a TEAM,” the junior said. “We play for each other, not just one player. When Josh went out we knew we would still have five guys out there on the court who could step up and contribute in some way. I love my teammates and I love this team.”
Cold shooting left Monroe City trailing 9-7 after the first quarter and 18-13 at the break. The Panthers connected on just 5 of 19 shots (26 percent) from the field in the first half including 2 of 10 from distance.
“This team just has a lot of resolve,” Panthers’ coach Brock Edris said. “When you are on the big stage and struggle to get into any kind of (offensive) rhythm like we did tonight, you just have to find a way to get it done and our guys battled all night.”
Josiah Talton started the Panthers’ second-half comeback. The junior point guard swished home his only field goal of the game on a 3-pointer with 3:53 left in the third. The shot pulled the Panthers to within 25-20.
Buckets by Hays and Robertson pulled the Panthers to within 25-24 with 27 seconds left in the third.
But Poppen halted the Panthers’ momentum as he beat the quarter buzzer with a fadeaway three in the corner and a 28-24 edge heading into the fourth.
Poppen, who finished with 12 points on four 3-pointers in the game, entered the contest shooting just 20 percent from distance on the season.
“He struggled with his shot at the end of the season but he has good form and a good shot,” SCA coach Brady Hammond said of Poppen. “When he hit his first one tonight we knew he would be a threat all night. Unfortunately we were not able to carry that momentum into the fourth quarter.”
Buckets by Deion White and Hays pulled the Panthers even with 6:00 left in regulation.
Hays’ drive marked the first tie of the game.
Six-foot-eight-inch Jared Gerdes gave SCA a 32-20 lead with 2:44 left in the game.
After both teams missed shots on their next possessions, Robertson scored in the paint with 1:28 left on the clock for the final points of regulation.
In overtime, Joshua Talton sank a pair of free throws with 2:48 remaining for a 32-30 lead. It was the first lead of the game for the Panthers.
“Once we were finally able to get the lead, we were able to take a deep breath,” Edris said.
SCA pulled even with 2:16 left before Joshua Talton came up with a rebound basket with 1:49 left for a 34-32 lead.
The Panthers would not relinquish the lead.
Cade Chapman drove the lane and found White open for a bucket at the rim and a 36-32 lead with 1:21 on the clock before the Panthers put the game away with five free throws down the stretch.
Joshua Talton paced the Panthers with 12 points, while Hays followed with 11. Robertson and Josiah Talton netted five points apiece.
After scoring 37 points in the Eagles’ quarterfinal win last week, Gerdes was limited to just six points by the Panthers’ suffocating defense.
“They played him physically and did a good job of doubling down on him,” Hammond said of the Panthers’ defense on the Eagles 6-7 post player. “We did not do a good enough job of making them pay on the double teams.”
Griffin Kliewer paced SCA with a game-high 15 points.
Hammond mentioned his team not being able to extend its lead with the Panthers’ leading scorer on the bench was crucial.
“When you let a good team like Monroe City hang around you are going to get beat,” the Eagles’ coach stated. “We did not make enough plays to push the lead and they kept fighting like we knew they would.”
Up next for No. 3 Monroe City (27-2) will be No. 1 ranked Hartville.
Last year’s Class 2 state champions blew past Lift for Life Academy in Friday’s first semifinal contest, 58-21.
Hartville (30-0) enters Saturday night’s state title game with a 41-game winning streak.
“It doesn’t get much tougher than that,” Edris said of Hartville. “But when you are playing for a state championship you expect to play the toughest team. We are going to have to play our best basketball tomorrow.”