SIKESTON, Mo. -- Notre Dame hung right with heavily favored Charleston for almost the entire first half.
But the Bluejays scored six straight points over the final 35 seconds of the second quarter to build momentum.
Charleston turned the second half into a massive blowout and romped 69-35 in Thursday night's first semifinal at the SEMO Conference Tournament.
"It's a tale of two halves. That's how our team has been so far in every game," said Notre Dame coach Kevin Roberts, whose squad that starts four sophomores fell to 1-2. "We're young. We'll learn."
Top-seeded Charleston, the defending tournament and Class 3 state champion, advances to today's 8:30 p.m. title contest against second-seeded, host Sikeston. Those squads also met in last year's final.
Fifth-seeded Notre Dame will face third-seeded Central for third place at 7 p.m. today.
"It's good to be in the finals again," said Charleston coach Danny Farmer, whose team improved to 5-0.
Charleston, the state's top-ranked Class 3 squad, received all it could handle from Notre Dame during the first half.
The Bulldogs battled the Bluejays to a 12-12 tie after one quarter and grabbed a 14-12 lead early in the second period.
Charleston opened a 27-16 advantage midway through the second quarter, but Notre Dame cut the deficit to 29-26 in the closing seconds of the period.
Senior guard Michael Hull hit a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and, following a Notre Dame turnover, senior point guard Ryan Parham drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
All of a sudden it was 35-26 entering the break.
"Going into halftime it could have easily been a three-point game. Instead it's nine and they have all the momentum," Roberts said.
That momentum never waned as Charleston quickly turned things into a rout.
The Bluejays scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to go up 45-26 as Notre Dame committed three turnovers and missed all five of its field goals to start the period.
"We missed some bunnies down low," said Roberts, whose squad was hurt by 28 turnovers in the contest.
Notre Dame never got back in contention. The Bulldogs were outscored 27-4 in the period as the Bluejays built a 62-30 advantage.
"We played good in the first half. We executed well," Notre Dame sophomore forward Tanner Shively said. "We didn't execute as well in the second half. They're a good team. They've got good talent."
The entire fourth quarter was played with a running clock that is used when there is at least a 30-point lead in the final period. Charleston's biggest advantage was 36 points.
"When they play hard, they're really good," Roberts said of the Bluejays. "I don't think their energy level was real high in the first half."
Farmer liked the way the Bluejays improved their play in the second half.
"I thought Notre Dame played good in the first half," Farmer said. "The second half we turned it up a little bit."
Farmer said he took notice of Notre Dame's first-round win over Jackson in which the Bulldogs rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit.
"We were worried about that comeback," Farmer said. "We didn't want them hanging around."
Hull led Charleston with 17 points, 10 during the third quarter. He made three 3-pointers in the game.
"He's our shooter," Farmer said.
Parham and senior forward Sumner Foster added 11 points apiece.
Junior forward Jordan Barber paced Notre Dame with 10 points.
"We just have to put this one behind us and get ready [for Central in today's third-place game]," Roberts said.
Central falls to Sikeston
in the SEMO Conference Tournament semifinals
SIKESTON, Mo. -- Central coach Drew Church probably wishes his team could take away the first quarter.
That, of course, isn't possible -- but it might have given the Tigers a chance to pull off a major upset.
Central dug itself a 15-point hole after the opening period of Thursday night's second semifinal at the SEMO Conference boys basketball tournament.
The third-seeded Tigers outscored second-seeded Sikeston the rest of the way but could not make up the early deficit in a 61-52 loss.
Host Sikeston advances to today's 8:30 p.m. title contest against top-seeded Charleston, the defending champion. Central will play fifth-seeded Notre Dame for third place at 7 p.m.
"We came out and they punched us in the nose," said Church, whose squad fell to 2-2. "As young a team as this is. ... to be honest, we kind of knew it would be coming."
Sikeston (5-0), the state's top-ranked Class 4 squad, stunned the inexperienced Tigers early with its trademark pressure defense.
Central committed nine first-quarter turnovers as Sikeston, which led wire to wire, built a 20-5 advantage by the end of the period. It was 9-2 just minutes into the game.
"They shot the heck out of it. They really shot it well," Church said. "It kind of put us on our heels as well as they shot the ball in the first half."
The Bulldogs built a 36-12 advantage in the second quarter as it looked like they might run Central out of the gym early.
But the Tigers cut the deficit to 36-17 by the end of the opening half, getting close enough to at least give them hope.
"We got off to a great start. I thought we played well the first quarter and a half. We built a great lead," Sikeston coach Gregg Holifield said. "I thought we lost our intensity, took some bad shots [in the second half]."
Central still trailed 48-31 entering the fourth quarter but wouldn't let the Bulldogs rest easy.
The Tigers scored the first eight points of the final period in less than two minutes as they sliced the deficit to 48-39.
"I'm proud of the young guys for bringing us back," said Central junior forward Jamal Cox, one of just two returning players with varsity experience. "It was a hard-fought game. They're a good team."
Central pulled within nine points four other times but could not get any closer.
"I knew they would not go away. They never do," Holifield said. "Overall I thought our kids did some good things."
Church knows the Tigers are going to have plenty of rough spots, especially early. Facing a tough and talented team like Sikeston will only make Central better.
"We did some good things that we can build on," Church said. "One thing that fires me up, we were down 20 and it forced our guys to really work hard and play better.
"It's early and we'll get better. Out of our top eight, six have never played a varsity game [before the season]."
Freshman guard Al Young led Central with 17 points, all over the final three quarters.
"It's hard going from the eighth grade to the varsity level," Church said. "Al works hard. He's going to be a good player."
Cox scored 13 points for the Tigers and senior guard Garan Evans added 10.
But Central had no answer for rugged junior forward J.T. Jones, who poured in 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
The burly 6-foot-3 Jones did most of his work around the basket but also stepped outside to hit three 3-pointers.
"He had a great game. He's a tough kid. He's a workhorse," Church said. "Now he's added the outside game."
Senior guards Markeith Bratcher and Vashawn Ruffin added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Bulldogs.
Cox said Central, which committed 26 turnovers to 10 for Sikeston, is looking forward to getting back on the court in today's third-place game against rival Notre Dame.
"We're young. We've got to work on a lot of things," Cox said.