CARBONDALE, Ill. – Mount Carmel is headed to the IHSA state basketball tournament.
Let those words sink in a little bit.
Because they haven’t been written for publication in 73 years.
The Golden Aces played perhaps their grandest game of the season Tuesday on the grandest stage of the year to date, overwhelming Alton Marquette, 61-40, in the Class 2A Super Sectional game at SIU Arena in Carbondale.
It is the first trip to the state finals since 1944, when an upstart 13-12 Mount Carmel team joined 15 others for the single-class tournament at Huff Gymnasium on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. The Aces, 28-4 on the season, will face Kankakee Bishop McNamara (24-7) in the semifinals on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Carver Arena in Peoria.
“What a time for probably our best game of the season,” said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss after the unexpected rout of the Explorers in a rematch of a game won by the Aces by two points in overtime on January 28 in Pinckneyville.
“Up and down the lineup, we followed the game plan and got the ball where it needed to go. These guys continue to amaze me. They just get better and better.”
Marquette led once at 2-0. After that, it was all Mount Carmel. Jackson Marcotte drilled two straight 3-point field goals from the top of the key to make it 8-4 and the onslaught was on. The Aces led 20-9 at the end of the first quarter, and 37-19 by halftime. The margin grew to 25 late in the game.
Marcotte and his 6-foot-8 compatriot Justin Carpenter finished 1-2 in the scoring column for Mount Carmel, with 17 and 14 points, receptively. Carpenter made it a double-double on the night by picking off 11 rebounds.
“It’s amazing,” said Marcotte, who for the second straight game seemed to be at his best when playing with four personal fouls. “We worked so hard this year, and to have it pay off in our goal to go to the Final Four is just amazing.”
For Carpenter, the only senior in the starting lineup, the game must have been a relief of sorts. He has drawn the bulk of the opposition defense during the post-season, but against Marquette’s straight-up coverage seemed unchained.
“We really stepped on them early, and never let up. I didn’t feel a time when I was uncomfortable with our lead,” said Carpenter, who added the state-tournament void of 73 years is hard to comprehend. “That’s over four or five times my life span. I can’t really grasp that.”
Bret Doan also wound up in double figures for the winners, with 10 points. Brayden Stipp and Austin Carpenter both added seven points, followed by Blake Golden (four points) and Dawson Brown (two points).
Alton Marquette (28-4), the second AP Top 10 team to lose twice to Mount Carmel this season, was led by the tandem of Isaiah Ervin and Reagan Snider, who each scored 11 points.
As they have throughout the post-season, the Aces outshot their opponents. On the larger collegiate floor (which the Aces simulated with workouts at Wabash Valley College), they hit 58 percent (21-of-36) compared to Marquette’s 31 percent (15-of-49).
Mount Carmel has been known for decades as a football school. Buss would like to add the round ball to that reputation.
“It isn’t like that anymore,” he said. “We’ve been building and building as a program. We’re proud as heck at what the football team does, but we’re ready to make a name for Mount Carmel basketball, too.”
The Aces appear well on their way to doing just that.
ACES ASIDES… Only two teams in the final AP Class 2A poll remain alive in the hunt for a state title, No. 3 Chicago Orr and the ninth-rated Aces… This is Mount Carmel’s sixth trip to a state tournament site, the others coming in 1921, 1927, 1929, 1935 and 1944… The Aces haven’s won a game at state since the championship season of 1927 (when they beat Athens in the first game, 35-19)… The last time the Aces played in the Super Sectional was in 2006, the final year of a two-class tournament. They lost to Nashville, led by center Lucas O’Rear (who later played at Northern Iowa), 76-46, in a game also at SIU Arena.