ROLLA — When Rolla scored the first basket of the night Wednesday in its Class 5 sectional boys basketball game against Rock Bridge, the Bulldog's packed student section roared. This was their city, their team. It was supposed to be their night.
And after the first half, it looked liked it might be.
Rolla headed to the locker room ahead 25-22 after controlling the tempo of the first half. Only two Rock Bridge players, sophomore Nick Norton and senior Josh Hayes, had scored. The Bruins' normal fast-paced offense had come to a screeching halt.
But with three minutes left in the third quarter, an overwhelming hush had come over the Rolla student section. The much smaller Rock Bridge crowd was having its turn to chant. Rock Bridge had turned the game around and commanded a 15-point lead before running away with a 72-47 victory.
Suffering from what Rock Bridge coach Jim Scanlon described after the game as an emotional "hangover effect" after winning the district championship, the Bruins knew what they needed to do to switch things up.
Starting in the second half, the Bruins pulled senior center Austin Ray and ran a four-guard lineup to change the tempo of the game.
The Bruins' defense came out scrappy in the third quarter, quickly racking up four team fouls in the first minute of play.
"We had to roll the dice," Scanlon said. "We couldn't wait any longer before we got going if we were going to win the game."
But the fouls didn't stop the Bruins from turning the game around. Senior Jordan Stevens, who saw little playing time in the first half, helped spark a fast-break scoring spree with his steals and 11 second-half points.
"We decided to go small with our lineup and run the break," Norton said. "Jordan's perfect for that. He runs and he's very good."
Norton, who had a game-high 24 points, scored the first 11 points for Rock Bridge. He hit a big 3-pointer in the second half to put Rock Bridge ahead by two points before making a steal and passing to junior guard Travis Jorgenson for a layup. The five-point burst started a run that the Bruins continued for the rest of the game.
"He really stepped up in the big time when we didn't have any flow," Jorgenson said. "He hit some big shots and so did Josh, and we really needed that."
Stevens said the second-half strategy was the key to regaining control of the game.
"When we went big, we were matching up with them, but they were controlling the tempo," Stevens said. "But when we go small with our guards, we run. So we got out, we got the rebound and when we got out, there were fast-break options everywhere."
Jorgenson, who finished with eight points after a scoreless first half, said the Bruins had to pick up the defense because they can't afford to play a slow game.
"We just had to get up on the guards and try to force some turnovers because when we play slow that plays into their hands," Jorgenson said.
Rock Bridge advances to Saturday's state quarterfinals in Springfield, where the Bruins will face Nixa, which is ranked No. 1 in the state by MOSports.com. Earlier in the regular season, Rock Bridge handed Nixa its only loss of the season.
After carrying his team through the first half before the Bruins picked up offensively, Norton said he is confident heading into the quarterfinals.
"Knowing that teammates are always gonna have my back and that we're gonna finish our games always give me confidence, and shooting well gives me confidence for the next game. So we're going to be looking good on Saturday," Norton said.