CARMI, Ill. – Mount Carmel just took a crash course in playing without one of its twin towers.
Justin Carpenter suffered what appeared to be an ankle sprain early in the third quarter of Friday night’s game at the Carmi White County Invitational. The 6-foot-8 senior spent the rest of the night seated at the far end of the Golden Aces bench, his left ankle wrapped in ice.
After an initial scare, in which Mount Vernon, Indiana quickly sliced the deficit from 20 points to nine, the Aces regrouped, end eventually rebuilt the margin while easing away to a 67-52 victory.
“It went from comfortable to nerve-wracking pretty quickly,” said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss. “Give our guys a lot of credit for rebounding. A lot of things went wrong in that third quarter from trouble to injuries, to (Mount Vernon) shooting the ball better. It was a whirlwind. But once we got slowed down against the press, I thought we did a lot better.”
There was enough margin for the Aces to work with because of an impressive first half, where they had built a 37-17 lead.
Guard Brayden Stipp, who wound up with 16 points, scored 11 in the first quarter to fuel the getaway. “He just came up big for us early, knocking down shots,” said Buss of Stipp, the junior guard who had been sick all day but still played.
The Aces added an even more impressive second quarter to the mix, outscoring Mount Vernon (4-10) 18-6 in the period for the 20-point halftime margin.
Jackson Marcotte was already on his way to a big night before the loss of Carpenter, his inside mate. With Mount Vernon electing a strategy of stopping Carpenter then dealing with the others, Marcotte spring loose for 17 of his game-high 20 points.
Mount Carmel (16-3), ranked eighth this week in the AP Class 2A state poll, was also buoyed by the second-half shooting of sophomore Bret Doan, who hit three 3-point field goals to help stabilize things.
Mount Vernon, which finished 2-2 in the tournament, was led by Blake Jackson with 16 points. Walker Paris added 15.
Now 3-0 in CWCIT play, the Aces have already clinched at least a tie for their fourth consecutive title, thanks to Fairfield, who upended Carmi 46-44 in the second game on Friday night. The host Bulldogs slipped to 2-1 in tourney play, eliminating the winner-take-all moniker from tonight’s Mount Carmel-Carmi matchup. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. preceded by the Harrisburg-Fairfield game at 6 p.m.
As to the extent of the injury to Carpenter, Buss said it was too early to know. “It didn’t swell up real big, but we’ll be smart with him. We’re going to try to win this game (on Saturday) but we’ll make sure Justin is good to go before we send him back out there.”
ACES ASIDES… Carpenter still finished with 11 points in the game… Aces have now won four games in a row… Carmi could share the title with a win over the Aces… The Bulldogs have won 10 CWCIT crowns, the most of any team, but none since 1999.