Basketball

It was a game so full of drama, no one in the full house at the Hilltop seemed to want the IHSA Class 2A regional championship basketball game to end.

And, it almost didn’t.

“It feels like we played three games,” said Mt. Carmel coach Tyler Buss minutes after his Golden Aces had defeated Flora, 92-87, in a game that stretched through two overtimes Friday.

“So many big things happened. I’m proud of my guys for getting to a breaking point and not breaking,” he said.

The Aces second straight regional crown lifts them into the Class 2A sectional in Du Quoin, where they will play Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Carterville.

“It looked like we scored a lot of points, but  it was tough in the half-court,” Buss said.

There were several breaking points the Aces had to deal with, the biggest coming even before regulation had played out to a 68-68 tie.

Leading 63-60 with 1:39 left, the Aces’ Riley Raber was called for a foul against Flora’s Bryce Pearce as he attempted a 3-point field goal. Raber was then tagged with a technical foul for arguing the call.

Pearce, who led Flora with 40 points, hit all three free throws on the foul to tie the game 63-63.

John Casolari was brought on to shoot the technical free throws. He made one of two to put the Wolves in front, 64-63.

Mt. Carmel’s Levi Laws, who scored 24 points, second only to Reece Metcalf’s team-high 33, hit a shot at :39 to put the Aces back on top, 65-64. More Laws free throws extended the lead to 68-64.

Flora’s Logan Smith scored on a 3-ball and a free throw with under one second left to tie the game at 68 and send the affair into overtime.

The first overtime was a show of marksmanship with both teams combining for 12-of-15 from the field, including the first eight collectively.

Pearce hit a shot with 1.6 seconds left to send the game into a second four-minute period.

By the time the second OT began, even at 82-82, the effects of the physically draining game began to show.

Flora’s Ethan Leib fouled out and Pearce started to lose his shooting touch.

“We knew we had to shut (Leib) down to get the ‘W,’ said Aces center C.J. Diel. “Once we finally did it in the second overtime, here we are, regional champs.”

The Aces ripped six of the first seven points of the frame to take control. Diel, who wound up with 15 points, scored three straight times to put the Aces ahead for good at 90-83.

“Everyone was on fumes by that time,” Buss said. “We thought about subbing a little more.”

Leib finished with 17 points, Smith 13 and Pedro Mendoza, a 6-foot-5 center who did not play against Mt. Carmel in the Aces’ win in December, finished with 10 points.

Buss said the Aces will regain their strength and be ready to go Tuesday at the sectional.

“We’re excited. Our guys got a taste of the sectional atmosphere last week, and we’re not going to be happy just to be there,” he said. “We’re going to Du Quoin to win two games and that will be our mindset.”

Austin Thompson, reflecting on what was his last game at the Hilltop, said “it was fun to be in this one. These will be memories that I will have for a lifetime.”

Five other seniors also said goodbye the Hilltop.

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