WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. – Mount Carmel keeps coming up with new ways to win post-season basketball games. If the Golden Aces can do that one more time, they’ll have something really new to talk about – a state-tournament experience.
The Aces have repeatedly overcome teams who minimize the impact of one of their two 6-foot-8 inside towers. Friday night, in the championship game of the IHSA Class 2A Sectional tournament, Robinson managed to hold both Justin Carpenter and Jackson Marcotte down in the first half. At intermission, Carpenter was scoreless, and Marcotte, who had 53 points in his previous two games, was held to two points. Yet, the Aces led at the break, 22-20, thanks to a buzzer-beating three-point runner by Brayden Stipp after Robinson had surged ahead on a seven-point run.
In the second half, Marcotte returned to form. He finished with 16 points, despite playing much of the second half with four fouls. Carpenter, meanwhile, staked his claim to the lane without scoring a lot of points. He only had three points on the night, but pulled down more rebounds (11) than anyone else on the floor.
Even after struggling most of the night at the foul line, it is there where Mount Carmel (27-4) clinched its’ first sectional title since 2007. The Aces scored their last six points at the stripe, after the Maroons had crept to within four points late.
The 54-49 win vaults Mount Carmel into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1929, when a Cliff Garrett-coached team, two years removed from a state championship, returned to Huff Gym at the University of Illinois in Champaign for the single-class quarterfinals. The Aces will face Alton Marquette on Tuesday in the Super Sectional game at SIU Arena in Carbondale, with a tipoff time of 7:30 p.m.
“That’s kind of been our motto,” said Aces head coach Tyler Buss after the win. “All year long, we’ve found ways to win. We battled through some real foul trouble tonight.”
It looked for a while as if this Sweet Sixteen matchup would follow a course similar to the first meeting between the two back in December when Mount Carmel held a first-half lead in excess of 20 points before settling for a 14-point win. The Aces jumped to a 10-3 lead on the strength of Bret Doan from outside. Doan already had eight points on the books by that early point.
Robinson (20-11) began to claw its way back. The Maroons, coming off two straight seed upsets (over Marshall in the regional championship, followed by No. 1 sub-sectional seed Eldorado in the semifinals on Tuesday), put leading scorer Dylan Dirks in charge. He hit back-to-back baskets to cut the deficit to one point, 13-12. Dirks finished tame-high with 26 points.
In the second half, buoyed by Stipp’s bomb before halftime, the Aces began to roll. They scored the first eight points of the third quarter to grab their first double-digit lead, 30-20, forcing Robinson into catch-up mode for the remainder of the game.
Stipp finished with 14 and Doan had 10 for the winners. The Aces shot 59 percent from the floor, hitting 20-of-34, but struggled at the foul line, where they were only 10-of-18 for 56 percent.
Marcotte was at his best in the fourth quarter, even in foul straits. Buss marveled at his star junior, even though he may have had something to do with the show of force inside.
“That was probably the maddest he’s ever been at me because I laid into him after getting that fourth foul, because he’s so valuable to our team,” Buss said. “I lost my cool a little bit with him and he was probably ticked off with me. But it worked because he took it out on the Maroons in the fourth quarter.”
Carpenter managed to “control the game in other ways” despite one of the lowest point totals of his Hilltop career. “He draws a lot of attention.”
The Maroons did not shoot well on the night – hitting 17-of-49 for 34.7 percent – but they managed 15 more shots than the Aces on the night to give themselves enough opportunities to make it close at the end.
Walker Sandscahfer also finished in double figures for Robinson with 10 points.
If the name of the Super Sectional opponent sounds familiar to Mount Carmel fans, it should. The two met on January 28 at the Panther Showcase in Pinckneyville, where the Aces won a slowdown thriller, 34-32.
ACES ASIDES… Mount Carmel had an unusually high total of 20 turnovers… There were four lead changes in the game… Aces won the rebounding battle, 32-19… Doan did not hit a 3-pointer after the first period, but his quick start helped set the tempo for the night… In the first meeting with Alton Marquette, the Aces trailed by nine points, 24-15, with 4:22 left in the fourth-quarter before rallying dramatically to tie the game and force overtime.