MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. – The stage is set.
Mount Carmel defeated Mount Vernon, Indiana, 78-58, in Big 8 Conference play Tuesday night, ensuring a winner-take-all regular-season finale against the other 5-0 team in the league – Washington – on Feb. 17 at the Hilltop.
In their 14 years in the league, the Golden Aces have never won more than three Big 8 games in one year. Even with that enormous monkey on their back, the ninth-ranked Aces jetted out to a 19-7 first-quarter lead and never looked back.
Mount Carmel (23-3, 5-0 in Big 8) won with perhaps its most balanced attack of the year. Five players finished in double figures.
“It’s nice to look up at the brand new scoreboard (with individual player totals) and see all five guys in double figures,” said Aces coach Tyler Buss. “We got a lot of contributions from a lot of guys today. I was really impressed with how we played in the first half.”
Mount Vernon (5-14, 2-3) was able to hold its own through the final three quarters – even through a wild third frame that produced a combined 50 points. The Wildcats could get no closer than nine points after the first period, thanks to the balance Mount Carmel had.
Neither of Mount Carmel’s Twin Towers -- Justin Carpenter or Jackson Marcotte – led the team in scoring. That was left to Austin Rager and Bret Doan, who finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Rager played well despite some early foul trouble. He scored nine of his 15 points in the second half.
“My favorite thing about Bret Doan is that he’s starting to show people he’s not just a 3-point shooter,” said Buss of the 6-foot-2 sophomore. “He got to the basket a few times, and has had more two-pointers in the last few games than he has all year.”
Carpenter and Marcotte both finished with 13 points. Then, there was 6-3 junior Blake Golden, who played one of his best all-around games to net 11 points.
“I don’t think a kid knows his role better than Blake Golden,” Buss said. “When he gets on the floor, you know you’re going to get defense, and you know you’re going to get rebounding. He did a good job of finding some soft spots when they were double or triple-teaming our post players.”
Mount Vernon was led by guard Blake Jackson with 18 points. Walker Paris added 12.
The Aces continued their recent trend of solid shooting at the foul line. They were 20-of-25 on the night, for 80 percent. From the floor, the hosts were 27-of-44 for 61 percent, while holding Mount Vernon to 16-of-42 accuracy (38 percent).
After 14 years of relative insignificance in the Big 8 Conference, suddenly the Aces find themselves in their biggest league game ever. And Buss hopes all of Mount Carmel – not just his players but fans as well – is ready for it.
“This is as big as it gets. 5-0 versus 5-0. I just challenge everyone to get up to that game. We would love to see no empty seats on our side,” Buss said. “We’re in post-season mode now. It’s a must-win game (vs. Washington) if you want to win the conference. Then, it’s must-win after that (in the post season) if you want to keep playing. What a great opportunity we have in front of us.”
ACES ASIDES: The IHSA will release Class 2A regional pairing on Friday… The Aces are expected to land in the Flora regional field, but could also be assigned to Eldorado… The Aces JV team won its first game of the season, with a wild 63-60 double-overtime win in the preliminary… Senior Grady Wilkinson was chosen as “Snow King” in a special between-games coronation… Tyler Buss was presented with a game ball commemorating his 100th victory at the Hilltop in a brief ceremony between games.