FLORA, Ill. – Holding a tenuous 35-30 lead over Edwards County at halftime, Mount Carmel basketball coach Tyler Buss sought to ease the collective anxiety of his Golden Aces.
“We were a little down at halftime,” said Buss. “We had to remind them that they don’t just hand (regional championships) out. You’ve got to go earn them.”
The Aces took those words to heart. They turned the IHSA Class 2A regional title game Friday night into a rout by outscoring the Lions 26-7 in the third quarter, and coasted in from there to a 78-51 win, their second straight regional crown and fourth in the last five years.
“We did a good job in the second half of executing and playing a lot faster than we were and getting the ball where it needed to go,” Buss said. “When you start knocking down shots, they’ve got to come out then it’s one-on-one to the post.”
That was the winning formula for Mount Carmel (25-4), ranked ninth in the weekly AP Class 2A poll. Guard Brayden Stipp scored 11 of his 16 points in the third quarter to fuel the getaway, and it was 6-foot-8 junior Jackson Marcotte who peppered shots in the paint for a game-high total of 25 points.
Marcotte’s dominance inside was easy to explain. “It helps when guys are hitting shots, like Bret (Doan) and Brayden,” he said. “That really opens up the post.”
Of Doan’s contributions, Buss said “we’re not ahead at halftime if not for Doan.” The sophomore finished with 14 points, but had a perfect four-of-four first half from beyond the arc line.
Although Edwards County (20-7) made life tough on 6-8 Justin Carpenter in the first half, the Mount Carmel senior rebounded to finish with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“They were banging me down low, but nothing we haven’t seen all year,” said Carpenter, who has already signed to play next year at Southeast Missouri State. “That’s the beauty of our team. You take me away, and you’ve got our team to back me up. That’s exactly what happened.”
The Lions led the game on just three occasions: sophomore Cade Rivers on offensive rebound baskets to make it 15-14 late in the first quarter, and 22-21 early in the second, then 26-25 after a basket by Bobby Brake midway into the frame.
Mount Carmel answered that last deficit with a seven-point run, then opened the second half with a similar run to take their first double-digit lead at 42-32.
Edwards County’s 20-win season was the school’s first since 1997-98, and second since 1955-56. For Mount Carmel, the win was important for historic reasons as well. The last time the Aces recorded 25 wins was in 1953-54, the senior season for all-time great Archie Dees.
Brake and Rivers each scored 10 to pace the Lion attack.
Even as players took turns on a ladder snipping away at the championship net, the talk turned to this week’s IHSA Class 2A Sectional tournament matchup between the Aces and fourth-ranked Teutopolis (28-3), the winner at Pana. Mount Carmel upended the Wooden Shoes, 64-62 on Nov. 25 at the Capital Classic in Lawrenceville. That snapped a three-game losing streak in the series, including last year’s sectional loss in Flora.
“We’ve been a collision course for quite some time,” Buss said. “Obviously, they are playing much better than they were in November, and so are we. To get to where we want to go, we’ve got to beat them.”
ACES ASIDES… This was the first matchup between Mount Carmel and Edwards County since 2004… Aces shot 55.6 percent from the field on 30-of-54 accuracy, while Edwards County shot only 37 percent, going 17-of-46… Doan finished four-of-five from the 3-point line… Aces enjoyed a 35-22 edge in rebounding… Flora officials allowed the Aces to cut the nets down there, instead of having to return to the Hilltop to do the honors... Eldorado (28-3) and Robinson (20-10) will play Tuesday in the sectional opener at West Frankfort, followed by the Aces-T-town duel on Wednesday. The championship is Friday, March 3 with the winner advancing to the Super Sectional at SIU Arena in Carbondale on Tuesday, March 7.