Mc LEANSBORO — A blocked shot by Levi Laws with 4.1 seconds remaining was apparently not enough to clinch the IHSA Class 2A Regional basketball championship.
So, Laws did even better - with a steal of Flora’s subsequent inbounds pass. That was enough to cement Mt.Carmel’s 51-49 upset win and begin the celebration of the Golden Aces first regional title in five years.
“It’s an exciting feeling. I feel great about the win” said Laws. “That block and that steal sealed the deal.”
Mt. Carmel (14-14) rallied from a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter to grab the lead before holding off Flora’s last-second bailout attempt.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said Aces coach Tyler Buss after earning his first regional title in two years at the Hilltop. “We put everything else aside, and guarded really hard in the fourth quarter. When you do that, you win things like regional championships.”
The Aces now advance to the West Frankfort Sectional, where they will face Nashville (23-7) on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. Nashville defeated Pinckneyville, 59-44, to win the regional tourney at Sparta.
No. 1-ranked Harrisburg (28-1) and Chester (21-8)will play on Wednesday in the other semifinal, with the championship game on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The Aces switched to a man to man defense and changed the course of the game. Ahead 41-35, the Wolves suddenly went eight straight trips down the floor without scoring.
“For a team that couldn’t guard my grandmother man to man two months ago, we have come a long way,” Buss said. “We knew that to beat good teams in the post-season you can’t just sit in a soft 2-3 zone, you’ve got to be physical. We answered the bell tonight.”
C.J. Diel, who scored 11 points, second to Reece Metcalf’s team-high total of 21, said, “We were giving them some easy buckets. Finally, we figured out what we were doing wrong, and shut them down and got it going.”
Mt. Carmel’s answer on offense was sporadic, though, with scores on only three of their possessions during that stretch. But it was enough to get the lead.
Thomas Allen and C.J. Diel scored to cut the deficit to 41-39, then Diel went inside for a basket, drew a foul, and hit a free throw to put the Aces ahead, 42-41.
Flora’s Blake Shehorn and Allen then traded 3-point field goals, as did Christian Taylor and Metcalf to follow, leaving Mt. Carmel still ahead, 48-47 with two minutes left.
After a Shehorn free throw tied the game at 48-48, Metcalf scored for the No. 2 seed Aces to go up for good, 50-48. Pearce and Allen both hit free throws to account for the final score.
Flora (21-8), which had beaten Mt. Carmel 47-44 in an early-season game at the Hilltop, called time out with 6.9 seconds remaining to set up a last shot. Laws blocked the shot, but the ball went out of bounds, gaining another try for the Wolves, with 4.1 seconds left on the clock.
Laws then stole the inbounds pass, and Aces players and fans mobbed the court as the seconds clicked away.
Mt. Carmel jumped to an early 14-5 lead, but Flora rebounded with a 17-point run to lead 24-19 by halftime.
The Wolves dominated inside through much of the game, with a 35-22 rebounding edge punctuated by 11 boards on the offensive end.
“The frustrating part was playing good defense then giving up an offensive rebound,” Buss said. “We felt that kept us from getting out and running our transition breaks.”
Flora was led in scoring by Ethan Lieb with 17 points. Taylor added 13.
NOTES: Advance Sectional tickets will be sold today (Monday) until 4 p.m. and Tuesday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Mt. Carmel High School. Each ticket costs $5.