Even before they took the floor on Friday night against Washington, the Golden Aces were looking ahead to this week and the IHSA Class 2A Regional tournament.
Reece Metcalf, who suffered an ankle injury in practice, was held out of the lineup against the Hatchets as a precautionary measure to ensure a healthy start in post-season play which begins on Wednesday in McLeansboro.
Even without their leading scorer, the Aces jumped out to a 23-11 second quarter lead. But, Washington came back to post a 52-48 Big 8 Conference victory before a Senior Night crowd at the Hilltop.
“I thought we came out and did a good job early,” said Aces coach Tyler Buss.
But right before halftime, “they started to speed us up, and we got out of our flow offensively,” said Buss of the Hatchets seven-point run that ended the half and whittled their deficit to 23-18 at the break. “We had to work a lot harder to get the ball upcourt. It would have been a lot nicer to have that 10 or 12-point cushion at halftime.”
Washington (8-11, 2-4 in Big 8 Conference) won the third quarter, 21-11, and carried a five-point lead of 39-34 into the final stanza. The Aces closed the game on a 6-2 run to narrow the final margin to four points.
The Aces looked good initially in the 2-3 zone defense they usually play, but finished in a man to man that looked as good as it has all season.
“If we can defend man to man like we did in the fourth quarter, then we’ve got a chance to go win a regional,” Buss said. “If we play defense like that, I don’t think there is a club that can beat us.”
Mt. Carmel (12-14, 1-5), which finished 8-of-17 at the free throw line, was led by Levi Laws with 19 points, followed by Riley Raber’s 16 points.
Cullen Arnold, a 6-foot-7 senior, paced Washington with 13 points. Andy Garland added 12 for the winners.
Three Aces seniors - Cole Berry, Joey Molstad and Davis Vargo - were honored along with cheerleader and band upperclassmen in a special Senior Night program between games.
• In the JV game, Washington held off the Aces, 35-32, in a battle for second place in the Big 8 JV standings. Sam Deisher and Bryce Pavia both scored 11 points for the Aces, who finished with a 10-6 record.