If familiarity breeds contempt then there was a whole lot to be said about the Mexico, 7-15 overall, varsity boys basketball team having already played Kirksville, 13-11 overall, three times prior to Monday's Class 4, District 8, game at Hannibal.
This includes a Dec. 11, 61-57 home win by the Bulldogs, as well as a much more recent 58-52 loss at the Tigers. Apparently that common game film meant just a little more to the Tigers because, after Noah Copeland pieced together two field goals around a score from Austin Penick, they were able to grab both the momentum and an 11-7 lead with more than half of the opening quarter having came and went. Jai Lawson did score seven in the session, but Mexico was still down 14-11 at the end of the first.
The true turn of this contest came when Kirksville took control 36-25 heading into the break because that forced the Bulldogs to spend the rest of the night trying to catch up, and by then neither Lawson's 16 points or the 22 Isaiah Reams scored were going to be enough to keep this squad from falling 71-56.
"Our game plan was to defensively change it up a little bit. We didn't think (Kirksville was) going to shoot it as well as they did from the perimeter because they hadn't against us," coach Darren Pappas said. "(Noah) Copeland is a load. He's only a sophomore now. I felt like he was the difference-maker for them. For us, we had some key turnovers. We'd make a run and they'd make a run and we could never get consecutive stops. That was a real key."
The rest of Mexico's first quarter points came by way of Bledsoe and Reams. It was Reams who also opened the scoring in the third quarter. That set the scene for the Zach Watkins to score the Bulldogs next five points starting at 7:17, a feat the Tigers Blake Morgan managed to match. Four points later and Kirksville's Ryan Ball turned a manufactured three-pointer into a 46-34 advantage with 2:53 left in the session.
"At halftime we challenged the boys. We told them they had 16 minutes to leave it all out on the floor. We started to make a run, but we couldn't sustain their runs and their execution down the stretch," said Pappas. "Kirksville is a good ball club. A more veteran ball club than we are. We've got a bright future ahead of us with some young guys coming back that have some varsity experience. We're going to build on that and hope for the best."
At the end of the third quarter Reams scored just before Lawson dropped a three-pointer to try and cut the deficit for Mexico heading into the final session. Tiger's senior post player Tanner Lain simply proved difficult at exactly the wrong time by charting scores of his own, one before the duo set their chain in motion and another after. This just about negated all the Bulldogs hard work and efforts and sent the game into the fourth quarter with Kirksville leading 54-40.
"I think we just got beat in all facets of the game. Give credit to Kirksville. They beat us in transition, they beat us on the boards and they knocked down shots," said Pappas. "Those three things, when added up together, do not equal anything positive for us. It's the opposite, but, for the most part I think the effort was there tonight. We just didn't hit shots or execute like I wish we could've, but I can't say enough about our seniors, Cole Whalen, Jasean White, Jai Lawson and Taylor Bledsoe."
Kirksville next played Hannibal, 17-4 overall, on Feb. 26.