OLNEY, Ill. – It has been a busy week for the Mount Carmel boys basketball team. The Golden Aces recorded back-to-back wins on Tuesday and Wednesday, and both were milestone wins for coach Tyler Buss.
Tuesday, the Aces throttled ancient-rival Lawrenceville, 69-43, for Buss’ 100th win in six years at the Hilltop. One night later, No. 101 – a 43-32 non-conference win at Olney – tied Buss for second place on the school’s all-time win list. He is now even with Rick Johnston, who was 101-91 in seven years from 1994-2001. Cliff Garrett, who guided the Aces to the state championship in 1927, is the all-time leader with 123 wins (He was 123-23 in five years between 1924-29.).
Buss said Johnston, now superintendent at Mahomst-Seymour, is “definitely my mentor. I leaned on him a lot early in my coaching career. I have probably picked up more from him than anyone else.”
Against slowdown-minded Olney (9-12), even though Mount Carmel had built a 13-point lead early in the second half, it took a strong finish to finally polish off the Tigers. After Gage Miller pulled Olney to within three points, 35-32, early in the fourth frame, the Aces scored the final eight points of the game.
“I wasn’t displeased with our effort tonight,” Buss said. “There was a short 2-3 minute span when we got really loose with the ball, and another 2-3 minute span when we didn’t guard anybody and gave up too many easy dribble-penetration buckets. Outside of that, there were still a lot of positives.
“It was kind of a downtrodden locker room. I told them ‘don’t start taking winning for granted. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to win.’”
Mount Carmel (21-3 and winners of nine straight games) never trailed in the game. Jackson Marcotte recorded a double-double, with 16 points and 11 rebounds to pave the way. Justin Carpenter finished with 10. Olney countered with 11 points from Brent Hatten.
On Tuesday, it appeared Lawrenceville (9-11) considered a similar approach as Olney did. But the host Aces shot so well from the field in the first half, the Indians were forced to abandon that strategy. Not that running with the Aces did them any better. A 37-22 Mount Carmel lead at halftime quickly turned into a 56-32 advantage by the end of the third quarter, and the margin mushroomed to 30 points before reserves played out the string.
“It was all about our pace,” said Buss, noting the Aces were able to play the way they liked “once we were rebounding and throwing that thing ahead.”
Mount Carmel hit six three-point field goals in the first half, and didn’t need any in the second half. Guard Brayden Stipp had one of his best games of the year, delivering the Aces’ first six points of the game from beyond the arc line, finishing with 14 points, matching Marcotte on the game. Carpenter led the team with 22 points.
Lawrenceville was led by Noah Volkman with 13 points. Jacob Williams added 11.
“It was a complete game,” Buss said. “We guarded well, we rebounded well. We fought through some adversity. It was pretty physical in there for a while.”
Saturday, the Aces play long-time southern Illinois power Nashville (14-10) in Benton, Illinois at the Rich Herrin Classic (tipoff time at 1:15 p.m.). The Hornets have been a post-season thorn in the Aces’ side for one decade now, ending Mount Carmel’s season at the sectional level or beyond three times since 2007.
So, beyond the obvious reasons for wanting a win, Buss sees this as a message game for the ninth-ranked Aces, similar in stature to last week’s game against No. 5 Alton Marquette at Pinckneyville, which they won, 34-32, in overtime.
“It’s our last chance to leave a good impression in southern Illinois before our (coaches regional) seed meeting next week,” he said. “We’ll have a good plan and will put our best foot forward.”
After Nashville, the Aces close out the regular-season with Big 8 Conference home games against Indiana opposition Mount Vernon (4-12) on Feb. 7, and Washington (12-5) on Feb. 17.