PEORIA, Ill. – Who is sweating the details, anyway.
Considering the historic achievement of the Mount Carmel boys’ basketball team this weekend, a second-place finish in the IHSA Class 2A state tournament should not be diminished.
For the Golden Aces of 2016-17 achieved something grander than any trophy will ever show. After 90 long years, they have put Mount Carmel basketball back on the map.
Chicago Orr defeated Mount Carmel, 59-39, in the finals. The Spartans did early damage against the Aces, with three blocked shots in the first eight minutes and a 16-6 lead at the end of the first period. The Aces, meanwhile, came out cold, missing six of their first seven shots.
“We knew it needed to be a certain type of game this evening and unfortunately in the first half we didn't make enough shots, said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss. “We had to come out and extend some pressure, we knew that was going to be tough.”
Orr (22-5) also had six steals in the first half, which seemed to make the Aces a bit skittish on offense.
“The pace of the game was where we wanted it in the first half,” Buss said. “It just seemed early on they blocked a few shots and we went through a stretch where we were afraid to get down in there and we settled for some shots, and we just didn't finish around the basket.”
Mount Carmel (29-5) gradually improved its shooting in the first half, eventually landing at 21 percent (5-of-24) by halftime. For the game, the Aces hit 33 percent, on 15-of-46 accuracy.
“One thing we strive on is our pressure defense,” said Orr coach Louis Adams, in his fifth year as coach of the Spartans after one year at Chicago Englewood. “We've seen before and we knew if our guards could put pressure on the ball, we would be fine.”
After trailing 28-14 at halftime, the Aces made their deepest run at the Spartans in the third quarter. Jackson Marcotte added a free throw to an inside basket to cut the deficit to 37-29 with 3:05 left in the period.
Orr, seemingly oblivious to the screams of the huge Wabash County contingent which had filled a portion of the Carver Arena stands, calmly embarked on a 9-2 run to wipe out the Aces gains and build a 46-31 lead by the end of the third quarter.
That was that.
Marcotte led Mount Carmel with 17 points. Carpenter, the lone senior in the starting lineup, finished with eight points. Doan, who hit two consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter to fuel the Aces’ surge, had six points. Austin Rager totaled five and Brayden Stipp three.
Orr was led by Dannie Smith with 19 points. Raekwon Drake, a 6-foot-5 junior, had as fast start and wound up with 17 points.
Buss said this season, which culminated with the first state tournament appearance since 1944, has been a unique experience.
“Anytime you can do things that have never been done or it's been a long time, that's pretty special,” Buss said. “This is something they will have forever. I couldn't ask for a more fun group to do it with.”
The win marked the first championship for Orr. The Spartans had been to the state finals twice before, in 2014 and 2014, taking third and fourth place.
“We had two goals” Adams said. “One of our goals is go to the City playoffs and we lost to a good team (Chicago Curie, 62-61). We said, now, that's over. State belongs to us. The guys worked hard, we were on a mission. We knew we could do it, it was just about staying focused.”
ACES ASIDES… The team returned to town on Sunday afternoon with a police and fire escort… A 60-minute long welcome home celebration was then held at the Hilltop... Mount Carmel’s 29 wins was the most since 1928, when the Aces finished 30-5… TV crews from “Dateline NBC” were at Carver to do a feature on Orr, located in the inner-city and nearby to many of the shootings which have plagued the city during the last two years.