Sikeston claims sixth St. Dominic Christmas Tournament title in seven years
O'FALLON, Mo. -- The Sikeston Bulldogs' dominance in the St. Dominic Christmas Tournament is still intact.
Top-seeded Sikeston held off No. 2 seed Fort Zumwalt South on Thursday with a hard-fought 68-61 victory to claim its sixth championship in seven years.
"It's big time winning this tournament," Sikeston junior Fred Thatch said. "We always like playing in this tournament so it's a big-time win for our team against some good competition."
Sikeston sophomore Kevin Jones said, "It feels good to win it. Growing up I always came up here and watched my brother and cousin play in this tournament. I always want to win it and play my heart out."
While Sikeston (9-0) has fared well in the event, the championship game was no cake-walk against seven-time tournament champion Fort Zumwalt South, a team that returned nearly every player from last year's team that lost in the tournament finale to Sikeston, 58-43.
The Bulldogs had to overcome foul trouble from its leading scorer Thatch and fend off several Zumwalt South rallies throughout the game.
Sikeston held a slim 46-42 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Thatch, now back in the game with four fouls, scored consecutive baskets to give the Bulldogs a 50-42 edge.
Zumwalt South (5-7) was able to get as close as six points four different times in the fourth quarter but never could make a dent in Sikeston's lead.
With its defense pressuring hard on the perimeter, Thatch and Jones were able to penetrate and find 6-foot-6 sophomore Trey Jenkins for baskets underneath.
Jenkins scored 12 of his career-high 24 points in the fourth quarter to go with his four rebounds and four blocked shots.
Jenkins did not miss a shot, going 11 of 11 from the field.
"I just played hard and cut to get open," Jenkins said. "We just ran our motion, screen, roll, and wide open every time. They had some great looks finding me."
Zumwalt South cut the lead to 64-58 with just under a minute to play, but Sikeston junior Don Larry hit both free throws of a one-and-one and on the ensuing trip Thatch rebounded a miss and found Jenkins deep behind the pressing South squad for an open layup to seal the victory for Sikeston.
Sikeston hit 6 of 7 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter with Larry connecting on all four of his attempts.
Larry capped off a solid tournament showing with 11 points and two steals.
Thatch, despite sitting the bench for extended minutes with foul trouble, finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and nine assists to barely miss a triple-double.
Jones had 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Jenkins, Thatch and Jones each were named to the all-tournament team.
The game started with Zumwalt South controlling the tempo, slowing things down and trying to extend Sikeston's defense.
Both teams are familiar with each other, having played in three straight tournament championships and five times overall. Sikeston has won four of the five meetings.
"They always come out flying so we just wanted to make sure it's slower at the beginning so they're not up 12-0 before we get our feet wet. And I think we did that. We survived the first few minutes," Zumwalt South coach Bill Friedel said.
The two teams traded leads four times in the early going before Sikeston managed an 11-10 lead after one quarter, but Zumwalt South standout E.J. Bellinger picked up two early fouls to send him to the bench.
"That really hurt us because he led us in points and he didn't hardly play in the first half," Friedel said. "But they lost Fred for a long time with fouls too so I guess that evened itself out."
Sikeston led by as much as eight in the second quarter and maintained its lead throughout, but Zumwalt South closed the gap to 31-30 by halftime.
"In the first half you have to give them credit, they're a good team," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "They're well-coached and they did a lot of good things. I thought we were soft in the first half but we were much more aggressive in the second half."
At the start of the third quarter, Jenkins scored inside and Thatch connected on a pair of free throws to give the Bulldogs a five-point edge, but Thatch was whistled for his fourth foul with 6:22 left in the third quarter, sending him to the bench for the remainder of the period.
"We all looked at each other and said, 'we got to step up. He's out.' We just had to take over and play. Don't lose," Jones said.
With Thatch out of the game, Zumwalt South tried to seize momentum, three times trimming the lead to four points, but they couldn't get any closer.
Jones provided the biggest spark for the Bulldogs, scoring seven points in the period to help the Bulldogs maintain a 46-42 lead entering the fourth.
Friedel said it was a missed opportunity for his team with Thatch out of the game.
"[Jones] took over and we didn't adjust our defense very well," Friedel said. "And [Jenkins] kept getting free underneath and had a great game. And some real nice passes to him. It wasn't like normal people passing him the ball. They were just threading the needle."
Holifield pointed out the play of freshman Clark Steward, who brought a steadying presence of ball-handling and rebounding in Thatch's absence.
Steward had four rebounds and a steal in the quarter.
"I thought we played very well when Fred when out," Holifield said. "Fred's such a big part of our program and team and our guys really stepped up. Clark Steward did a fantastic job. You put a freshman in that situation, he's got a chance to be just a special player in my opinion. I was very proud of him."
Zumwalt South did not help itself from the free throw line, only hitting 7 of 16 (44 percent) in the game while Sikeston hit 20 of 28 (71 percent).
Sikeston also forced Zumwalt South into 19 turnovers. The Bulldogs had 16 assists and 15 turnovers themselves.
"They're so well-coached and they control tempo so well and they're athletic. My gosh, you look out there, they are quick with great size. They're long with athleticism and they play very controlled," Holifield said.
Bellinger, a 6-2 sophomore, scored 20 of his game-high 28 points in the second half. Darious Thomas, a lightning quick 6-foot guard, finished with 17 points, but struggled from the free throw line, only hitting 3 of 9.
"Free throws hurt us tonight," Friedel said.
Fort Zumwalt South won the St. Dominic Christmas Tournament five straight times until Sikeston entered the event in 2010 and promptly won four straight tourney titles. Fort Zumwalt South snapped Sikeston's streak with an 82-80 overtime victory over the Bulldogs in the title game in 2014, but Sikeston has rebounded to win the last two.
The Bulldogs have won 20 of the 21 games they have played in the tournament.
"First off it's a great tournament," Holifield said. "The people here are fantastic. That's why we like to come up here. We're treated well and it's good competition and it's been good for our program."
Sikeston will be off for a week until traveling to play at SEMO Conference rival Charleston on Friday. Junior varsity action starts at 6 p.m.
FORT ZUMWALT SOUTH (61) -- E.J. Bellinger 28, Darious Thomas 17, Chris Jordan 6, Drake Whaley 5, Jake Patton 2, J.J. Schwepker 2, Channon Ross 1. FG 21, FT 7-16, F 18. (3-pointers: Thomas 2, Bellinger 1, Whaley 1. Fouled out: none).
SIKESTON (68) -- Trey Jenkins 24, Fred Thatch 15, Kevin Jones 14, Don Larry 11, Phayzun Fobbs 2, Jason Moore 2. FG 21, FT 20-28, F 16. (3-pointers: Larry 1, Jones 1. Fouled out: none).