Wins have been extremely tough to come by for the Carlyle Indians at the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament.
Carlyle ended a 15-game tournament losing streak Tuesday, then found its way into the win column again Thursday when Eli Cox hit a layup just ahead of the buzzer to beat Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 44-42.
It was another big win for the Indians (7-6), who trailed 17-15 at halftime and 29-28 heading to the fourth quarter.
Hoping to run a play for leading scorer Dru Johnson, the Indians instead got the ball into the hands of Cox, and he provided the game-winner that evened their pool play record at 2-2.
“Dru made a good decision not to force it, and he kicked it out to Eli,” Carlyle coach Andy Palmer said. “They rushed at him, and he drove the baseline and finished it off. It’s been a while since we’ve won two games there.”
Johnson tied the game 42-42 off a press break after the Cyclones, who finished 2-2 in pool play, had taken the lead on another clutch 3-pointer by senior guard Jack O’Connor. Johnson finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Connor Toennies contributed 11 points and seven rebounds.
Palmer said he even met with his team at one point asking if they wanted to return to Mater Dei again this season, knowing it is always one of the top small-school tournaments in Southern Illinois.
The answer he got from his players was a resounding “yes.”
“A lot of people are questioning why do we stay, and it’s to play good competition,” Palmer said. “You understand you may have some losses in there, but it’s something that prepares you for the postseason and conference play.”
Thursday’s victory also gave Palmer, who will be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame next spring, his 200th win with Carlyle. This season is his 13th with the Indians, and he has 412 overall wins, counting eight seasons at Pope County High in Golconda and two years at (Ullin) Century.
“That’s nice icing on the cake to get that number,” Palmer said, “but it’s about us trying to get better, honestly. We’ve lost some close games, and it’s been our own fault. I’m trying to get these guys on the same page, so they learn how to finish in close games.”
Okawville 52, Briarcrest 43
After struggling for much of the game, Okawville got a long 3-pointer from University of Evansville recruit Noah Frederking that sent the Rockets into the fourth quarter tied 33-33. Okawville lost two of its first three tourney games despite being the No. 1 seed, but got 23 points from senior Shane Ganz and 17 more from Frederking to hold off Briarcrest and reach the third-place game.
Central 45, Mascoutah 40
With a spot in the tourney championship game already secured, Central moved to 4-0 in pool play by defeating Mascoutah. Senior guard Kolby Schulte led the way with 16 points and Jack Strieker chipped in 12 as the Cougars (9-3) fought off the upset-minded Mascoutah Indians. Mascoutah got 16 points from Noah Brandon and 14 from Blake Weiss. This one was tight throughout as Mascoutah led 11-8 after one quarter and Central led 14-13 at the half and 25-23 after the third quarter.
Mater Dei 59, Metro-East Lutheran 44
Mater Dei pulled away from Metro-East Lutheran as the game wore on, getting 13 points from Lucas Theising and 12 points and seven rebounds from senior center Mason Toennies for the Knights’ third-straight pool-play win.
Noah Gerdes had nine points for Mater Dei, and Tyler Goebel had eight. Metro-East Lutheran’s Noah Coddington led all scorers with 18 points.
Briarcrest 52, Highland 42
Briarcrest got 18 points and seven rebounds from Cedric Henderson and 12 points from Lucian Murdock in a victory over Highland. Highland, which lost three straight at the tourney after stunning top-seeded Okawville, was led by 18 points from junior Stephen Schniers.