FREEBURG — There's a reason Marquette High School basketball coach Steve Medford keeps pushing his team harder and demanding better execution and attention to the finer points of the game.
It's not just to help the Explorers win tournament championships, as they did Saturday with their second straight Freeburg-Columbia Holiday Tournament title thanks to a 59-56 victory over Gibault.
Marquette (9-2) has made the jump from Class 2A to 3A for the playoffs and while the Explorers are as deep and talented as they've ever been, it's still going to take a special effort to advance in the postseason.
When Medford saw his team's 10-point halftime lead turn into a two-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter, it gave him yet another talking point.
So did the inability to hold an early 20-9 advantage.
"They were physical, they're big and they've got some kids that can shoot the ball," Medford said of Gibault, a 12-2 Class 1A team. "They're a good basketball team and it was good to get pushed like that. We've got to do a little better in situations at the end of the game, learning how to execute a little better and take better shots and have better possessions."
The presence of tourney MVP Jake Coddington, who scored a game-high 22 points, helped calm the Explorers down the stretch. Junior guard D'Tae McMurray also came up big with seven of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
McMurray's biggest shots of the night were a 3-pointer to end the first half and another at the start of the fourth quarter to wipe out a brief Gibault lead.
Medford likes his team's quickness, but said that can lead to gambling on defense that can backfire.
"We tried to get some easy steals and they went by us and now it's a 3-on-2 situation," Medford said. "We didn't stay square (to our man) very well tonight, that's something we're going to have to work on."
The performance should give Gibault a lot more confidence. After falling behind early, the Hawks stayed aggressive and hung right with one of the top teams in Southern Illinois.
"We knew it was going to be a defensive game and the offense was going to come with that," said Gibault senior Matt Schreder, who scored 14 of his 18 points after halftime.
That included an impressive run of Schreder scoring 11 straight Gibault points during the third quarter.
Joining Coddington on the all-tournament team were Marquette teammates Deion Lavender, Mike Williams-Bey and McMurray, Justin Diecker (Freeburg), Anthony Hibbler (Murphysboro), Schreder and Wes Degener (Gibault), Justin Kretchmer (Waterloo), Michael Hunsaker (Columbia) and Kyle Yates (Civic Memorial).
Gibault leaving tourney
Along with Marquette's victory, the other big news at the tournament was Gibault's decision to leave the event after signing a contract to play at Pinckneyville's Duster Thomas Classic.
Gibault has been with the tourney since the late 1950s, winning eight championships and annually providing an economic stimulus thanks to a large and loyal fan base.
"They do bring a great crowd," Freeburg Athletic Director Steve Sergesketter said.
Gibault coach Dennis Rueter talked about the difficult decision.
"We liked the idea of playing four games in two days and it will give us time off for Christmas," Rueter said. "We also liked the idea of playing some people we don't normally play. We really like the idea of going away and being done in two days."
That being said, Rueter also knows his fans appreciated the short drives to Freeburg or Columbia during holiday tournament week.
"I went back and forth. I don't know if I'll say it was a good one or not, I guess we'll find out," he said. "But it was not a decision we took lightly."
Gibault didn't win its first tournament title until 1984 and that championship remains one of Rueter's favorites.
"It was probably the year when we had all those heavyweights here," said Rueter, noting several highly-ranked teams featured several Division I prospects. "I don't know if I'd say it was the favorite because they all in their own way have their own merits, but that was kind of overwhelming that year.
"We were really good, but there were so many really good teams. We were undefeated going into it and we were the fourth seed. That was probably the one you looked at and said "whoa."
The Hawks also won tourney titles in 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1997, 1998 and 2002 and finished second six times since 1983.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.