By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
PALMYRA, Mo. -- Since returning to the Tony Lenzini Tournament nearly two decades ago, one thing was missing for the Canton boys basketball team.
That changed Saturday night when the top-seeded Tigers won their first championship in the event since 1961 by beating third-seeded Clark County 67-49.
"It feels really good. It's a big accomplishment," Canton junior Tyler Niemann said. "We wanted to go out and do Canton proud tonight."
The Tigers, now 16-0 and ranked No. 3 in the Class 2 state poll, sputtered a little early. Once they swung the momentum their way, they never looked back, using a 7-0 run to open the second quarter for a 23-16 lead.
"It's a great win for our program," Canton coach Andy Anderson said. "We're one of the smaller schools in this tournament and to be able to go out and do what we did this week against schools quite a bit bigger than us is something we're pretty happy with."
The Tigers recorded their three wins this week by an average margin of 13.3 points per game. Saturday, Canton continued to emphasize balanced scoring and team play like it had all week.
After sophomore Gabe McKenzie received his third foul only 45 seconds into the second half and had to sit the rest of the third quarter, classmate Cameron Durst came off the bench to pick up the slack.
Durst scored on back-to-back possessions with less than four minutes left in the third quarter to extend Canton's lead to 50-34 after it had led 38-30 at halftime.
"We want Gabe out there but Cameron did a great job tonight," Anderson said. "He was aggressive on both ends of the floor. He's just a good athlete and he guards well inside and outside."
Perimeter defense was a strength for the Tigers. Niemann and Austin Hoewing teamed up to hold Chase Bevans, Clark County's leading scorer, to only three points on 1-of-7 shooting.
Kyle Kovar scored a game-high 18 points and Jayvin Ray added 12 for the Indians.
"You always have to be aware of what Canton is going to try to do whether it's offensively or defensively and it's tough because they have so many good players and they're versatile," said Clark County coach Adam Rung whose team is now 7-9.
"We were able to get the ball inside but we couldn't get much going on the perimeter.
"I think eventually we figured it out but by the time we did, it was too late."
Niemann and Brandon Berhorst led Canton with 15 points apiece, while David McReynolds finished with 12 and Durst added 10. Niemann added seven rebounds and seven assists.
Palmyra bounced back from Thursday's semifinal loss to Clark County in overtime by beating Highland 77-52 in the third-place game.
The Panthers (10-7) took a 19-point lead in the second quarter only to have the Cougars cut it to 10 on a basket by Derick Smith midway through the third. Jordan Nutt kept Highland from getting any closer by draining a 3-pointer on the next possession.
Brock Butler and Trevor Meny led Palmyra with 22 points apiece, while Nutt added 13. Smith scored 26 points to lead Highland (6-6).