BELLEVILLE — Marion coach Shane Hawkins talked Friday about the difficulties of winning on the road in the South Seven Conference, but he got no sympathy from Althoff coach Greg Leib.
Althoff lost three straight conference road games before winning its last two at home, including a 66-51 victory Friday over Hawkins' Marion Wildcats.
The Crusaders (11-4 overall, 2-3 in the league) jumped out to a 26-11 lead after the first quarter and held off a second-half comeback bid by Marion (7-7, 2-3).
Althoff got 21 points and 12 rebounds from sophomore Brendon Gooch, with 10 of his points coming in the opening quarter.
"There's a different element to playing on the road," said Hawkins, the former Pinckneyville High and Southern Illinois University Carbondale standout guard. "You're away from your comfort zone, generally you don't shoot it as well on the road.
"They're at a home, they're free and loose. They made shots in the first half and got off to a lead. We didn't have that special level of toughness it takes to win on the road and it was evident in the first quarter."
Althoff hit 10 of its first 16 shots, with Gooch leading the way with two 3-pointers among his 10 points in the first quarter.
He had only six points after halftime, but kept hurting Marion with rebounds and blocked shots.
"He came out rolling," Leib said of Gooch. "He's shooting it well, they did a better job of slipping out and putting a bigger guy on him in the second half.
"I thought he had some great rebounds and some key rebounds, and some key blocks tonight. If he's going to block shots like that I'm going to Windex his hands, because those backboards are dirty."
Althoff had four players in double figures. After Gooch, sophomore Keenen Young had 16 points, freshman Jordan Goodwin had 14 and senior Kevin Renner had 10.
"That never hurts," Leib said. "That's usually a good equation for success."
Althoff also hit 14 of its 16 free-throw attempts and reached another gear after Marion got as close as eight points late in the third quarter.
Leib's squad lost conference road games at Carbondale, Cahokia and Mount Vernon before knocking off Centralia and Marion at home.
"That's a Michael Myers movie in itself right there," Leib said. "With four teams in the top 15 (in the state 3A poll) it's tough. We've persevered, we're growing and we're getting better. We get to rest for a few hours and then play Gibault tomorrow night."
Marion got 13 points from Moe Jackson and 12 from Colton Carter, who came off the bench to drain four of his six 3-point tries.
Leib didn't feel overly comfortable even with a a 39-25 lead at halftime. Especially since he knew Marion wiped out a 15-point deficit last Friday and came back to stun Cahokia 59-58.
"Wary isn't a big enough word," Leib said. "They just beat Cahokia and we just had a big win, too, but I know what (Hawkins) is capable of. I know him as a person and how he was as a player and you see how he is as a coach.
"I thought our guys kept battling. We got some good finishes and some buckets when we needed it to keep some space."
Marion trailed by eight heading into the fourth quarter, but Gooch drained a 3-pointer. The Wildcats crept within eight one more time, but Althoff held on.
The slow start put the Wildcats in a tough spot.
"It started the first quarter," Hawkins said. "You give up 26 points and you're on the road and if you end up giving basically 104 ... you're never going to win on the road that way."