BRIDGEPORT, Ill. – For the record, Mt. Carmel lost to Teutopolis, 76-74, in the championship game of the Capital Classic Saturday night.

Make no mistake, however. The Golden Aces were the real winners of the eight-team, two-site tournament. With one starter back from last year and this team together for only four practices following an extended post-season football run, Mt. Carmel managed to drag one of Illinois’ historically grand teams through the muck and mire.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” said Aces coach Tyler Buss, underway in his third year at the helm. “We had two football linemen come to an open gym less than 24 hours after a physical game against Williamsville (in the IHSA Class 3A semifinals one week prior). It tells you the kind of guys we have. They want to be good. Now we have to teach them to be good.”

For over 31 minutes and 59 seconds the Aces were good, with Teutopolis (4-0) finally stealing the 2-point win away on a rebound basket by Brett Mette at the buzzer.

Mt. Carmel, which had defeated Fairfield, 68-56, to win the pool played at the Lawrenceville site to qualify for the final, jumped to a 16-1 lead against T-town. The Aces lead was 24 points at its maximum (48-24) midway into the third quarter before the Wooden Shoes began their comeback.

T-town went on a 20-7 surge to whittle the deficit to a manageable 55-44 heading into the fourth quarter.

Then, Nathaniel Hardiek and Mette formed a solid 1-2 punch to complete the rally. Hardiek hit three 3-point field goals and 11 points in the fourth frame, with Mette adding nine for the Shoes. After Mt. Carmel’s Deric Wright missed two free throws with 8.2 seconds left, it was Mette who beat the horn with his rebound follow after an initial shot in the lane had fallen short.

During his post-game radio show, Buss took the blame for the loss. “Put this loss squarely on coach Buss’ shoulders,” he said. “I did a poor job of subbing in the second half. We had tired legs out there.”

Levi Laws led Mt. Carmel with 33 points, having his way with T-town’s defense for most of the night. “He was everything. They didn’t have an answer for him,” Buss said.

After a first half in which he ripped off 22 points, Laws was held scoreless by T-town in the third quarter. The Shoes accomplished that by literally throwing bodies in front of Laws – enough contact to eventually foul out three defenders. Laws scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and 7-of-8 at the foul line.

One shot that didn’t go in for Laws was on a baseline drive with 54 seconds to go, resulting in a controversial charge call that wiped out a free throw opportunity and gave the ball back to T-town.

“He gets in spurs where you just turn him loose,” said Buss of his superstar senior, who returned from an off-season ACL injury in time for the basketball opener, after missing all of the football season.

Laws was an easy choice for tournament MVP, joining three other Aces players (Brian Fox in 1989-1990, Ronnie Wilcox in 1993, and Reece Metcalf in 2013) who have earned the honor.

Gabe Margelin, one of the aforementioned football linemen who passed on a rest between seasons, scored 16 points, becoming a regular Laws assist target much of the night. Sophomore Justin Carpenter, who added 11 points, joined Margelin and Laws on the all-tourney team.

Mette finished with 22 points for T-town. Devin Smith added 11 points.

The effort his young, unpracticed squad put up against Teutopolis bodes well for the future, according to Buss.

“The type of guys we have, they want to get better,” he said. “We talk all the time about not being just a one-hit wonder, with last year’s senior bunch being as talented as they were. We want Mt. Carmel basketball to be a program, to be like football, or T-town in basketball. We want to be that kind of program. We’ve challenged our guys to buy into making Mt. Carmel basketball a brand.”

Earlier on Saturday, Laws had 21 points to lead Mt. Carmel to the 12-point win over Fairfield. Carpenter had 18 and freshman Jackson Marcotte 14 for the Aces, who forged an early 23-11 lead then held the Mules, led by 6-foot-8 senior Nathaniel Lackey’s 18 points, at bay down the stretch.

Friday, Mt. Carmel (3-1) opened the season with a rally of their own. Trailing host Lawrenceville by 13 points early, the Aces rallied for a 64-57 win. Guard Sam Deisher led the way with 17 points, followed by Margelin with 14 and Laws with 12.

The Aces followed that with a 64-43 rout of Marshall in the second game Friday. Margelin put together a double-double, with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Carpenter barely missed the same, with nine rebounds to go with 11 points. Laws had 14 assists in the game.

NOTES: The tournament title was the 10th for Teutopolis… Mt. Carmel plays at Red Hill again Tuesday, this time a regular-season game with the Salukis… Aces open home season Saturday with a Big Eight Conference game against Jasper.