CARMI, Ill. – After winning the Carmi White County Invitational basketball tournament only once in their first 29 years, suddenly Mount Carmel can’t do anything but win there. The Golden Aces wrapped up their fourth consecutive title – either won or shared – Saturday night with a 58-42 victory over Carmi.
The Aces may be known for offense, but this year’s championship came because of defense. After leading 21-19 at halftime, they scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to put the contest away.
“That was a fun second half,” said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss. “It all started with the energy on the defensive end and we kind of fed off that and got out on the break.”
Need a better indicator of that defensive presence in the second half? Consider that neither of Mount Carmel’s 6-foot-8 towers – Justin Carpenter or Jackson Marcotte – hit a single field goal in that span, yet the outcome was never threatened.
They didn’t even miss it with defense like that.
“We knew we couldn’t shoot it as bad as we did in the first half,” Buss said, “We had all the looks we wanted in the first half, they just didn’t go down for us. Then Bret Doan hit a (3-point) shot to start the half kind of opened things up for us.”
Mount Carmel (17-3), winners of five straight games, outscored Carmi 18-7 in the third quarter to take a 39-26 lead into the final eight minutes. Then, when Carmi was forced to foul in the fourth period, the Aces clinched the game at the foul line, where they were 17-of-21 on the night.
“If we guard that hard like we did in the second half, we’re going to win a lot of games,” Buss said. “I’m proud of this group. They committed to guarding on that end.”
Austin Rager led the Aces with 16 points. Marcotte added 12 points, and Carpenter, who was cleared to play with no restrictions after suffering a mild ankle sprain in Friday night’s win over Mount Vernon, Indiana, wound up with seven (but 11 rebounds). Doan also hit double figures with 10 points.
Carpenter was named tournament Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row, the first Mount Carmel player ever to achieve that. Marcotte was also named to the all-tourney team.
“You could have flipped a coin for this tournament for MVP, either (Carpenter) or Marcotte. Both had huge tournaments,” Buss said.
Carmi (13-6) was led by the tandem of Matt Rice and Travis Black. Both had 16 points. Rice represented the host Bulldogs on the all-tourney team, along with Jake Simon.
In the other game on Saturday, Harrisburg earned its first win of the week, edging past Fairfield, 48-47. In the final CWCIT standings, Mount Carmel finished 4-0, Carmi and Mount Vernon 2-2, with Fairfield and Harrisburg both going 1-3.
Harrisburg landed Isaiah Saulsberry on the all-tourney team, along with Mount Vernon sharpshooter Blake Jackson.
Mount Carmel, ranked eighth this week in the AP Class 2A poll, has four home games remaining, including Tuesday night against Gibson Southern (8-4). On Saturday, the Aces travel to Pinckneyville, where they will face Class 2A ninth-ranked Alton Marquette (18-2) at the Panther Showcase.