Rock Bridge boys basketball could not contain Nixa in overtime loss

Saturday, March 3, 2012 | 7:56 p.m. CST; updated 8:54 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 3, 2012

SPRINGFIELD — Rock Bridge assistant coaches Quentin Mitchell, Terrell Turner and Erik Darkow stood side by side in front of the bench, silent.

With their hands in their pockets, they watched as No. 1-ranked Nixa (29-1) warmed up on the basket in front of them. A few guards made a series of athletic, flashy layups, but then the coaches saw what they were looking for.

A player wearing No. 23 jogged to the basket and leapt effortlessly, his elbows nearly even with the rim, before dropping the ball in the hoop and landing.

It was junior forward Jalen Norman, Nixa's athletic, 6-foot-5 star. The Rock Bridge boys basketball team had faced him, contained him and beaten Nixa once earlier in the season, handing the Eagles their only loss of the season.

But the Bruins didn't have the same luck this time around. In just under two hours, Norman ended the Bruins' state tournament run, leading all scorers with 31 points in Nixa's 61-57 overtime victory over Rock Bridge on Saturday in the Class 5 state quarterfinals in Springfield.  

Norman scored 22 points in the second half and overtime combined.

After the Bruins (24-5) went into halftime with a 28-22 lead, Norman came out and made three shots in a row for Nixa. The crowd roared. Nixa had taken control of the game.

The Bruins couldn't find a way to stop Norman. Senior center Austin Ray was in foul trouble; the Bruins offense couldn't avoid Norman's defense; and Norman kept swatting shots into the stands.

Enter junior Jordan Stevens. After scoring 11 second-half points in Rock Bridge's sectional victory over Rolla, Stevens came out attacking again. Unlike his teammates, Stevens hadn't played Norman before. He was ineligible during the first semester after transferring from Hickman.

Stevens, who Bruins coach Jim Scanlon has described as fearless, lived up to the description. Even as Norman guarded him, he went on an offensive tear. He drove to the basket for layups, made 15-foot jumpers over Norman and dumped passes to Ray for more easy baskets.

Stevens' spark resulted in a run that put the Bruins up 52-41 with five and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Stevens had wrenched control of the game out of Nixa's hands.

But as quickly as Rock Bridge broke away with the lead, Nixa came right back. A 12-point run by Nixa and a roaring crowd killed the momentum as fast as it came. Rock Bridge only scored five more points before heading to overtime tied at 57.

Rock Bridge was unable to score in the extra four minutes, and a three-point play off a jump shot by Norman put Nixa up 60-57. The Eagles held on from there, advancing to the Show-Me Showdown beginning Thursday at Mizzou Arena.

The Bruins were shocked. In under 10 minutes, they had lost an 11-point lead. They were no longer heading back to Columbia to play in the state semifinals. They were heading there to go home.

Stevens, who led the Bruins with 18 points, was the first Rock Bridge player to emerge from the locker room after the loss. He complimented Norman's performance.

"We gave it everything," Stevens said. "He's just a tough matchup for anybody. We tried to get off of him and make him take shots, but he knocked them down. He was on fire."

With Norman playing such impressive basketball, Mitchell said the coaching staff just told the team to keep fighting and playing defense.

"You want to make it as tough as possible for the offense," Mitchell said. "I think for the most part we did that, but when they're hitting shots and you're contesting, there's not much you can say."

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