BREESE — On a cold Wednesday night in Breese, the Central Cougars wrapped Mater Dei in a defensive blanket and squeezed the Knights' offense into a deep slumber.
Defending state champion Central used constant pressure to help produce a 36-27 semifinal victory over the Knights at the Class 2A Central Regional.
"I thought it was one of our better defensive efforts of the year," said Central coach Stan Eagleson, whose 20-9 squad will face top-seeded Carlyle (23-7) for the regional title at 7:30 p.m. Friday. "We weren't perfect on the hedges and the switches, but we were close. We didn't give them many good looks and when they (had them), they missed them."
It was a frustrating night of missed opportunities for the Knights (16-13), who lost to Central for the third time in four games this season.
Mater Dei was 8-for-37 from the floor (22 percent) overall and hit just one of 15 3-point tries despite Central playing without senior starter Austin Rickhoff because of an ankle injury.
Two big factors were the defense of Central guard Jacob Timmermann and forward Kyler Scheer.
Their offensive production was also huge with Timmermann scoring 14 points and Scheer adding 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Timmermann held Knights leading scorer Adam Etter to seven points without a single free-throw attempt. The 6-foot-6 Scheer had two early blocks in the first quarter and slammed the door shut on the inside.
"They were daring us to shoot from the perimeter," Mater Dei coach Brian Perkes said. "I thought we had some looks, (we) didn't make them. Scheer did a good job taking away our post play and that was key. Once they took away our post play we struggled offensively."
Etter and Timmermann don't just know each other from the rivalry, they went to grade school together.
"I've guarded him every time we've played them and I know all his moves, so it wasn't that hard really," Timmermann said.
"Not having Rickhoff certainly hurt them, but the key to their team is they can slow down Etter with Timmermann," Perkes said. "If teams can do that against us, that really puts us behind the eight-ball. Adam is so key to us and Timmermann is a tough match(up)."
Eagleson said limiting Etter was huge since the Mater Dei senior is one of the area's top guards.
"I don't know if we've played many better guards than him this year," Eagleson said. "He's really a nice player and Jacob does a tremendous job on him with help from his teammates. Kyler frustrated them inside.
"When they did get it in there, he's long and tough to shoot over."
It was a defensive slugfest throughout the first half. Central led 14-8 at halftime and 24-18 through three quarters before pulling away late.
Frustrating the Knights at both ends of the court, the Cougars kept chipping away until the lead reached 14 points on an 8-0 run with 3:48 remaining.
"Defensively it was not the problem," Perkes said. "It was on the offensive end. We told the kids we were going to have to knock down four or five threes to beat them and I think we hit one."
Mater Dei was held without a field goal until there were 46 seconds left in the first quarter, with Etter finally guiding a shot through to end a 9-0 Central run.
Mater Dei was 1-for-8 from the floor in the opening quarter and 2-for-15 in the first half. Central wasn't much better at 4-for-14 in the first half, with Timmermann scoring seven of the Cougars' 14 points for a 14-8 halftime lead.
Nick Hitpas had six points for Mater Dei and Ben Lampe had five.
Carlyle defeated Central twice this season on the way to winning the Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division title. The Indians are looking for their first regional title since 2006.
"Yeah, we owe them," said Eagleson, whose team has won four straight regional titles. "It's really been a tough chore because they're such good shooters. They're a tough team."