CARLYLE — When Columbia beat Carlyle back in December, Carlyle's 6-foot-3 junior forward Matt Hilmes was out with a broken hand.
Hilmes was icing that hand Friday, but only to cool it down after a hot-shooting night that saw him pour in 24 points in the Indians' 59-38 victory that clinched a share of the Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division title.
"Hilmes dictated the whole game, we really didn't have an answer for him," said Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom, whose team had beaten the Indians 44-40 on Dec. 21.
"Matt just took it at them, they really didn't have an answer for him or John (Becker) either one," Carlyle coach Andy Palmer said. "When they did close it down, we were able to kick it out and hit some shots. That was a good win for us."
Carlyle (19-7) is 8-1 in league play, needing to win at Red Bud next Friday to nail down its first conference title since 2006.
Hilmes shredded the Eagles inside, scoring 16 of those 24 points in the first half while hitting eight of his first 11 shots. Most came on power moves to the basket that were finished with left-hand layups.
"It was fun," said Hilmes, who sat out 13 of the Indians' 26 games while injured. "I think I'll start going with my right just in case more people start scouting, they're going to figure out I'm left-handed. I've got to start going right now.
"It was tough sitting out those 44 days and missing all those games."
John Becker added 16 points for Carlyle, while Columbia (13-13, 5-3) got 14 points from Michael Hunsaker and 12 from Cole Foster.
Hilmes' return has ignited a fire under the Indians, who have won 13 of their last 14 games.
"He can rebound and he can defend a little bit," Palmer said. "He's just another threat out there on the floor and he got it going tonight. Teams have a decision to make: are they going to try to double down there and stop us?
"If they do -- and he makes good decisions -- then we can kick it out to good shooters and they can knock down threes."
The Indians have the No. 1 seed in the Class 2A Central Regional and as well as a shot at the conference title.
"We've got a share," Palmer said. "When we went to Columbia and got beat, we said right then we had no choice but to win out. So far they've been able to do that and I'm really proud of that."
The rest of the conference has watched defending state champ Central roll through the league schedule in recent years.
"Central's pretty much dominated this conference over the last five years, so it's a nice accomplishment for our kids," Palmer said. "They've worked hard, they hung in there when Matt was out and (we) put ourselves in a position with only one loss while he was out.
"Getting him back certainly helps things."
Columbia fell behind 6-0 while committing turnovers on each of its first four possessions and five of its first six. Hunsaker scored the Eagles' first 10 points and had 10 of their 14 points in the opening quarter.
Hunsaker managed only four points the rest of the night as Carlyle turned in a solid defensive effort.
Carlyle led 34-21 at halftime and the Eagles cut that lead to 10 points in the third quarter before watching the Indians pull away.
Sandstrom wasn't pleased with his team's intensity level since the Eagles still had an outside shot at claiming a share of the conference title.
"Very surprising," he said. "When you have an opportunity to win a conference title, you need to come out and play with a little bit more passion than we did. We beat Carlyle earlier in the season and it didn't look like tonight that we had anything on the line at all."