Tonight’s IHSA Class 2A boys sectional championship basketball game between Mt. Carmel and Nashville is more than two teams with different strategies: the Aces desire to run in transition against Nashville’s renowned offensive patience.
This is also a story about two different basketball cultures: the Hornets starlit tradition against a historically rare Mt. Carmel attempt to steal the show.
Something has got to give when these two clash at 7 p.m. in the 2,000-seat Du Quoin gymnasium, after the 5:30 p.m. 3-point showdown gets the evening started.
Make no mistake, both teams deserve to be here. In fact, they were here one year ago, albeit in the sectional semifinals, a game won by Nashville, 72-66, in overtime.
Hornets coach Brad Weathers certainly remembers.
“You remember last year,” Weathers reminded fans on his post-game radio show after Nashville’s 71-49 victory over Harrisburg Wednesday. “They’ve got four starters back. They are very similar, just a year older and a year better. They don’t take a long time to shoot it. They are very skilled.”
Mt. Carmel coach Tyler Buss said his team welcomes the rematch.
“I know they’re excited to get the rematch from last year,” said Buss of his players. “We played so well against them and came up a little short.”
Buss said the biggest thing his team has shown this year “is that we can play a game in the 40s or 50s and win if we have to.”
Which they might have to do again.
“They’re going to try to slow the pace down, and we need to get out in transition and get some buckets,” Buss said. “We think we can attack them in the half court too.”
Buss expects Nashville (24-7) to show a 1-2-2 zone most of the night, one that doesn’t offer as much extended ball pressure as Carterville showed in its zone in the semifinals Tuesday, won by the Aces, 65-56.
Instead, the Hornets prefer to protect the core inside.
“They may get out and trap out of the zone a little bit, but they’re going to make us work. So, we have to be patient and work the ball around.”
Mt. Carmel (22-8) may also spend much of the night in a zone, not wanting to deal with Nashville’s height advantage in a man-to-man setting.
The Hornets have three 6-foot-6 inside players, the group led by sophomore Royce Newman, any two of them usually on the court at once.
Thus, moving on defense inside will be a key, according to Buss.
“Being in the right spot, knowing who is supposed to be helping in the post and who is supposed to be on the shooter will be key.”
Newman was in foul trouble much of the night against Harrisburg, eventually fouling out with six points. Clint Johannes picked up the slack inside by scoring 15 points.
While Nashville’s guards do not get as much attention as the interiors players, Keegan Anderson and Daniel Thorson came up big. Anderson had a team-high 18 points and Thorson 15.
Of Mt. Carmel guard Levi Laws, who led the way with 22 points against Carterville, Weathers said: “A tremendous ballhandler. A creator and a penetrator.”
A 28-year veteran coach, in his fifth year at Nashville, Weathers said he expects to see a 2-3 zone from Mt. Carmel.
There is nothing at this point the Aces, basically intact for two years as they have been, haven’t seen or been through, which Buss expects to pay dividends.
“We’ve seen every different type of game you can be in,” Buss said, noting one of the craziest games only one week removed, the 92-87 double-overtime regional championship win against Flora. “We’ve done the overtime, we’ve done the double-overtime. We hope our experience will be big for us.”
The winner of the game advances to the super-sectional Tuesday at 8 p.m. at SIU Arena in Carbondale against the survivor of the Vandalia sectional, where Greenville plays Teutopolis.
Doors open tonight at 5 p.m.
NOTES: Aces looking for first advancement to Elite 8 since 1929... After beating Mt. Carmel last year, Nashville lost in super-sectional... Levi Laws lone Ace in 3-point shootout, where winners advance to state finals next week in Peoria.