Though the final score of 72-29 does not indicate, it took Mt. Carmel a few minutes to get untracked before the Golden Aces eventually put Carmi away Tuesday in an IHSA Class 2A regional semifinal at the Hilltop.
The Aces missed their first six attempts from beyond the 3-point line, relying on defensive pressure and a transition offense for points in the early going.
Once untracked, there was a certain wow factor to the hosts’ 43-point win, coming as it did against a Carmi (18-10) team four days removed from claiming the co-championship of the Eastern Division of the Black Diamond Conference with a 67-64 win over regional No. 2 seed Fairfield.
“Good start” is how Mt. Carmel coach Tyler Buss modestly termed the victory.
“You always wonder how you’re going to come out that first post-season game. It’s a different feeling. There’s a different routine before the game,” Buss said. “I thought our guys were mentally ready to go.”
The aforementioned defense never wavered in its intensity, as the Aces outscored Carmi 40-7 in the middle two quarters to make things look easy.
“You have to think Carmi had tired legs after playing that full-court game last night (a first-round 71-62 win over Lawrenceville),” Buss said. “We tried to get out and run as much as could. We also did a good job of switching defenses, to give them some different looks.”
It seemed as if everything worked for the Aces, including a half-court halftime buzzer beater by Reece Metcalf, who finished game-high with 22 points, and four assist passes of at least 50 feet by Levi Laws, who added 10 points of his own.
Senior center C.J. Diel tallied 10 points and five blocked shots on a night when a season-high 12 Mt. Carmel players hit the scoring column.
Carmi was led by Brodie Brown with nine points.
Now a 20-game winning team for only the fourth time since 1959, the Aces (20-8) await the winner of tonight’s Flora-Fairfield semifinal in the championship game Friday at 7 p.m. The regional winner heads for the sectional in Du Quoin next week.