DU QUOIN, Ill. — Nashville did not use a basketball playbook to devise a strategy to defeat Mt. Carmel and win the IHSA Class 2A sectional tournament here Friday.
The Hornets went to the military playbook instead.
Nashville used an aerial bombardment early to soften up the Golden Aces defenses, then introduced ground troops later to record a 63-55 victory and advance to Tuesday’s Super-Sectional at SIU Arena in Carbondale.
Call it “shock and awe.”
“We knew if they shot the ball well, it would put us in a bind defensively,” said Aces coach Tyler Buss after his team was denied an Elite 8 berth for the first time since 1929.
Just how Nashville (25-7) sprinted to a 20-10 first-quarter lead was unexpected, however.
Instead of going inside, where the Hornets held a distinct advantage, their first six shots all came from beyond the arc line.
Daniel Thorson hit three 3-point field goals and Kyle Jasper one as Nashville grabbed an early 12-2 lead.
“We just knew we had to get (Nashville 6-foot-7 sophomore center Royce) Newman controlled. He’s such a force in there,” said Buss, who inched his career coaching mark over the .500 mark (45-43) this season. “But, when they come out and throw up those shots and everything is going in, that really got our guys frustrated early on."
Nashville finished the first frame 4-of-7 from 3-ball range, yet only shot two from there the entire second half, as the emphasis switched from Thorson (who did enough damage early to finish team-high with 18 points), to the inside game, where Newman earned his 14 points (all from the second quarter on).
Mt. Carmel (22-9), scoreless in nine attempts from the arc line in the first half, trailed 33-17 at halftime. Yet the Aces gathered themselves enough to make two second-half runs, slicing the deficit to seven points, 58-51, with 1:30 remaining.
Close enough to give the Aces hope.
“Gosh, we battled hard in the second half,” Buss said. “We ran out of gas a bit and it was too late."
Nashville’s biggest lead was 42-22 when the Aces initial 14-4 push back brought them to within ten at 46-36 early in the fourth quarter.
Reece Metcalf, who led Mt. Carmel with 22 points, scored nine during the run, with Austin Thompson scoring the other five.
After Thomas Allen’s 3-ball brought the biggest cheer of the night from Aces faithful as they got within seven points, Nashville’s other 6-foot-7 insider, Clint Johannes, scored three straight baskets to shut the door on Mt. Carmel’s miracle rally bid. It was 64-51 in the game’s final minute.
Mt. Carmel’s game plan was to zone Nashville throughout, concerned about the height differential. But with the deficit mounting, Buss switched to a man-to-man out of necessity.
“We knew we had to speed the game up. If we would have sat in that zone, they would have gotten conservative,” Buss said.
Yet, it worked.
“Give Metcalf credit. He’s our hardest worker and was going to battle Newman, and we put enough pressure on their guards to make it tough on them to throw that over-the-top pass,” Buss said.
Levi Laws added 10 points to the Mt. Carmel total.
The Aces lose six seniors off the roster, including four starters. But, it has been one of the most successful classes in Hilltop history, with two sectional appearances behind them.
It is the core that Buss has mostly worked with during his first three years as coach.
“I couldn’t be blessed with a better group to start my first three years with,” Buss said. “They’re great kids and we’re going to miss each and every one of those seniors.”
NOTES: Nashville has now beaten Mt. Carmel in three-straight post-season games (2007 Class A super-sectional and 2013 sectional semifinal before)... Hornets face Teutopolis in super-sectional Tuesday at 8 p.m... Levi Laws and Riley Raber were both eliminated from 3-point shootout competition.