It took a fourth quarter stand to keep the rallying Triad Knights at bay, but the Gibault boys basketball team extended its winning streak to nine games Tuesday.
Seniors Trevor Davis and Collin Kessler led the way for the Hawks with a combined 41 points in the 68-57 win.
“We’re coming around at the right time; we’re getting our offensive strategy figured out,” said Kessler, who scored 22. “The biggest thing is that we’re playing really good defense right now — maybe the best defense we’ve played all year — and it just gets better.”
The Knights got within two points of Gibault on a jumper by senior Noah Moss with 4:25 left in the game.
But the Hawks held on the defensive end. Kessler blocked Moss — who scored a game-high 23 points — on a layup, then finished the possession with a layup on the other end. Gibault went on to a 12-4 run to widen its advantage to 10 points late.
“I think at that point of the game it’s about running them out of possessions,” Kessler said of the big stop on Moss. “Every possession counts, and if you can get stops, the less chance they have to score, and it boosts your confidence. I think you can feel that swing coming.”
Triad (14-7) entered the game having won just three of six games since the new year, but it had been tempered by a staunch competition at the Salem Invitational Tournament, where the Hawks faced state-ranked Edwardsville and Effingham.
“Going to Salem made us better for sure,” said first-year Triad coach Josh Hunt. “But for us to keep playing with good teams like Gibault — and they are really good and obviously red hot right now — we’ve got to be much better defensively.”
Gibault improved to 17-7 and put 37-year head coach Dennis Rueter with in two games of career victory No. 700. With wins over Waterloo and Mascoutah, he could join an exclusive club that contains just 20 other Illinois coaches by Feb. 10.
Gibault carried a 31-26 lead into halftime, but Triad tied the game at 33 early in the third quarter.
An 11-2 run gave the Hawks a 49-38 lead at the start of the fourth, but a short jumper by Moss and a 3-pointer by Beau Barbour sparked a 12-3 Triad run that put the Knights back to within two, 52-50.
That’s when Kessler blocked Moss to swing the momentum. Davis scored eight of his 19 points in the game’s final three minutes, and Gibault hit its final nine free throws to preserve the win.
“If we’re ahead and we’re smart, it’s really hard to guard Davis when your spread out,” Rueter said. “We use that to our advantage, and we did a little better job of doing that tonight, particularly later in the second half.”
In addition to Kessler’s 22 and Davis’ 19, sophomore Karson Huels scored 16.
The Hawks shot 23 for 42 from the field, including seven 3-pointers.
Triad was 19 for 42 and perfect on 11 shots from the free-throw line.