BENTON, Ill. – Mount Carmel was almost to the breaking point on Saturday against Nashville at the Rich Herrin Shootout.
Nashville (15-11) led, 35-29, with five-plus minutes remaining. The Hornets had controlled the pace of the game to that point, willing to wait however long it took to capitalize on even the smallest of Mount Carmel mistakes on defense.
Then, like a shot in the dark, the Golden Aces rebounded, spurting ahead on a seven-point run that completely changed the tenor of the game. Nashville never fully recovered, as Mount Carmel (22-3) ran off to a 52-44 win, it’s 10th straight.
“They had a good plan,” said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss of the Hornets. “It was tough to get the ball inside again. It was one of those choppy, no-flow type of games. But give our kids credit for making big plays. There is something to be said for a group that finds ways to win a ballgame late. This team continues to do this.”
Jackson Marcotte and Justin Carpenter went back-to-back inside to cut the Mount Carmel deficit to 35-33. Then, Bret Doan hit a 3-point field goal to give the Aces their first lead of the fourth period, 36-35.
Brogan Kemp hit two free throws to give Nashville the lead back at 37-36. However, Carpenter hit a 3-ball to put the Aces back up, 39-37. They never trailed again.
Over the last five minutes, Mount Carmel outscored the Hornets 22-9.
Three times in the third quarter, Nashville took from 60-90 seconds off the clock before scoring. Debilitating, perhaps, but not enough to finish the Aces off.
Buss called a time out with his team down four. “I said we’re only two baskets down. I know it feels like a lot because we’ve had to play so much defense. So, we challenged them to make some stops and get the pace up a bit. Our big guys did a phenominal job in the second half of finishing through contact.”
The biggest plus for his team on the night, according to Buss, was free throw shooting. The Aces were 13-of-16 on the game for 81 percent. Their last eight points came at the stripe.
Marcotte led Mount Carmel with 16 points, while Carpenter and Doan added 13 apiece. Nashville was led by Ryan Brink with 14 points. Kemp, at 6-foot-6 the tallest Hornet, added 13 points.
The Aces, ranked ninth in the latest Associated Press Class 2A poll, have been busy this season exorcising past demons. First, it was Teutopolis at the Capital Classic in November (a 64-62 Aces win, snapping a three-game losing streak during Buss’ tenure). Then there is Nashville, which has eliminated three Mount Carmel teams at the sectional level – or beyond – since 2007.
“We’ve had our season end with Nashville too many times, and we never got over the hump against T-town," Buss said. "So, I’m proud of the guys the way we stuck with it.”
The Aces hope to add to this collection of firsts in the days ahead. Tuesday, they host Mount Vernon, Indiana (5-13, 2-2) in a Big 8 Conference game, seeking to start 5-0 in league play for the first time in history. Then, Feb. 17, the regular-season concludes with a Big 8 home game against Washington (13-5, 5-0), which could turn into a winner-take-all affair. Mount Carmel has never won the league crown in its’ 14 years in the league.
ACES ASIDES… Mount Carmel finished the regular-season 13-1 versus Illinois opposition. The Aces stand 9-2 against Indiana teams… The status of inside reserve Noah Singer may be determined Monday after tests to determine the extent of his knee injury, believed to be a meniscus tear... The Aces have won five straight games at the Rich Herrin Shootout, dating to a 66-63 loss to Hamilton County in 2012. They are 7-2 all-time in the event.