Norris City built a 20-point lead but had to hang on for an 82-77 opening round win over Carrier Mills-Stonefort at the first night of the Greater Egyptian Conference Tournament Monday evening.
Carrier Mills used a 34-19 run over the first 10-plus minutes out of halftime to close to within one possession and did manage to get as close as 69-68.
From that point, NCOE extended its lead to 78-68 by scoring the next nine points.
Still, Carrier Mills managed to make things interesting in the final minute.
Brandon Skaggs banked in two baskets in the final 30 seconds to secure the victory for the Fighting Cardinals in what was the first matchup of the season between the two schools.
"The kids played hard in the second half," said Carrier Mills-Stonefort coach Keil Peebles. "You just can't spot a team 20 points and expect to get back. We got back, but then turned the ball over and didn't box out on a rebound or two. You just can't do that. They gave it all they had, but you just don't spot people 20 points."
NCOE senior Matt Long scored 34 points for the No. 5 seed Fighting Cardinals, including 19 in the first half.
Teammate Cooper Wells dropped in 25 points for NCOE (5-12).
"We just wanted to find their shooters and get out on them," said Peebles. "(Matt) Long hurt us with the penetration all night long, and he got to the basket and got to the free throw line. That's what good players do."
Carrier Mills senior Brody Walker scored 31 points for the fourth-seed Wildcats (8-11), and Justice Hill added 20. Freshman Will Gibbs scored 16 points.
NCOE doubled up the Wildcats in the second quarter and outscored Carrier Mills 28-14 in the period to lead 50-32 at halftime.
"Our guys cannot take for granted any game," said Peebles. "They've got to come ready to play, and I don't think we did that. We didn't start the game with the same intensity we had late in the game."
NCOE will meet top-seed and defending champion Gallatin County at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals at Deaton Gym.
Gallatin got by Thompsonville, 65-44, in Monday's second contest at SIC.
The Hawks only led 24-19 at the break, but got 22 points from Seth Ramsey.
Gallatin County (15-5) has won four of the previous five GEC Tournaments.
Carrier Mills will take on Thompsonville (4-11) Thursday at 8 p.m. in the consolation bracket.
Tuesday's action is set to tipoff at 6:30 p.m. when No. 3 seed Hardin County takes on sixth-seed Galatia. That game will be followed by No. 2 Crab Orchard meeting Pope County.
NCOE 82 Carrier Mills-Stonefort 77
NCOE 22 28 15 17-82
CM 18 14 22 23-77
NCOE (82): Healy 1 0-2 2, Long 13 4-6 34, Skaggs 3 0-0 6, O'Neal 1 1-2 3, Wells 10 4-4 25, Verble 4 0-0 10, Baumgart 1 0-0 2. Totals 32 9-14 82.
CM (77): Gibbs 5 5-6 16, Walker 13 5-6 31, Hill 8 4-5 20, Austin 1 1-4 3, Schwartz 1 3-4 5, Lollis 1 0-0 2. Totals 29 18-25 77.
3-pointers: NCOE 7 (Long 4, Verble 2, Wells), CM 1 (Gibbs). Team fouls: NCOE 19, CM 14. Records: NCOE is 5-12, Carrier Mills-Stonefort is 8-11.