The opening night of the IHSA Class 2A regional boys basketball tournament at the Hilltop Monday belonged to the favorites.
Carmi (18-9) and Flora (22-8) both advanced with victories, setting up one of the toughest semifinal fields of any of the 32 regionals in the state.
Tonight, fourth-seeded Carmi, which rallied past Lawrenceville, 71-62, will face No. 1 seed Mt. Carmel (19-8) at 7 p.m.
Flora, the No. 3 seed, advanced with a 74-51 rout of Hamilton County. The Wolves will face second-seeded Fairfield (20-8) in the other semifinal, Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The championship game is set for Friday at 7 p.m. after the 3-point shootout, which begins at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets for all games cost $5, a fee set by the IHSA. The doors will open at 6 p.m.
Brodie Brown led Carmi with 31 points, as the Bulldogs, trailing at halftime, 29-28, turned things around in the second half against upset-minded Lawrenceville (12-16).
“We got off to a slow start and made some silly turnovers,” said Carmi coach Eric Dixon, who felt his club “was really, really tight.”
But, as the game wore on, “most of them relaxed,” Dixon said.
“We played their style, up and down, and that’s not where we want to be at. But we scored enough points to win.”
Mt. Carmel defeated Carmi, 55-45, Jan. 21 at the Carmi-White County Invitational.
In the rematch tonight, Dixon said a key for the Bulldogs will be “controlling Levi Laws in the full court. He’s almost impossible to stop when the ball is in his hands.”
Reece Metcalf, the Aces leading scorer, had 26 points in the first meeting. “They’re going to be ready to play,” said Dixon of Mt. Carmel. “We have to come up and guard and take care of the basketball.”
What makes Carmi formidable is the balance the Bulldogs have shown.
“We’ve had seven different leading scorers this season, and have gone through nine starters,” Dixon said.
As an example, Dixon points to Chase Sailer, who scored only four points last night but had a 26-point outburst against Fairfield earlier.
In addition, Jamey Steed had nine points against Lawrenceville, but 28 against Fairfield at the CWCIT.
In the second game Monday, Flora’s Bryce Pearce reached a milestone early in the Wolves’ easy win. He crossed the 1,000-point career scoring mark.
Flora coach Phil Leib called time out immediately after the feat to allow fans a chance to salute Pearce.
Hamilton County (6-22) trailed 38-12 at halftime, the victim of anemic shooting. The Foxes reached an in-game low of 12-percent from the field before scoring 28 fourth-quarter points to salvage a final percentage of 31.8 percent on 18-of-62 accuracy.
The winner of the regional tournament advances to the Du Quoin sectional next week.