With no basketball sectional championships since 1996, the Mater Dei Knights had every reason to throw everything they had into the post-game celebration Friday night.
They broke open an extremely tight game with a big second half and fueled by Ben Lampe’s 21 points and 12 rebounds, the Knights pounded out a 51-37 victory over Pinckneyville to win the Class 2A Wood River Sectional.
The players said this win wasn’t just for the current Knights, it was for a lot of frustrated former Mater Dei players and fans as well. To many times in recent years they had to watch someone else do the celebrating. This time it was them.
“This is big to them, it’s not just big to us,” said Mater Dei guard Sam Toennies, who scored 11 points in a game that was tied 20-20 at halftime. “The fact that it’s been about 20 years makes it even more special.”
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Lampe turned the interior of Pinckneyville’s defense into his own personal demolition derby with his hard-driving runs to the rim. He also spoke about the importance of closing out an elusive sectional title.
“It’s great and as you can see the fans are pretty excited,” said Lampe, who had 45 points in the two sectional wins. “We’ve got a great following right now, it means everything to these Mater Dei fans and the team. It’s what I’ve been dreaming of since I was a kid.”
Mater Dei (23-10) will face Carterville (25-4) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Carbondale Super-Sectional at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Carterville defeated Teutopolis 77-63 Friday to win the Benton Sectional.
Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg breathed a sigh of relief after the big win.
“I am enjoying this one,” Schadegg said. “It feels good, it’s been a long time coming for Mater Dei and I’m happy to be a part of it, for sure. The celebration ends at some point tonight ... we’ve got to prepare for another game now because you get to this point, you’re too close to be satisfied.”
With Pinckneyville deciding to double-team Mater Dei’s 6-foot-8 center Nolan Gerling, Lampe was the prime beneficiary. Gerling scored only five points, well below his average, but Lampe stepped up along with Nick Pollmann (12 points) and Toennies (11).
“I play football so I’m used to the pounding,” Lampe said. “When basketball turns more into a football game, that’s my style of game and I like to play it.”
“You make a choice and I thought tonight Lampe made us pay,” Pinckneyville coach Bob Waggoner said. “We had to sub offense for defense once we fell behind and when we tried to sub offense it just killed us on the defensive glass because he just shoved us around.”
Waggoner said Toennies and Pollman also made a difference.
“(Toennies) has kind of been the player that has kind of lit their fire a little bit,” Waggoner said. “He’s driving the ball, he’s getting on the glass, he’s an athletic kid defensively (and) then of course if (Lampe) does what he’s doing it just adds to the nightmare of having to play them.”
Pinckneyville (25-7) did what it wanted in the first half, fighting the Knights to a standstill and a 20-20 tie at halftime. However, the Panthers missed eight of nine shots in the third quarter while the Knights slowly pulled away.
It was a trend that continued throughout the second half. Lampe scored 15 of his 21 points in the final two quarters.
“Ben’s been the man quite a bit throughout the season for us,” Schadegg said. “When teams double down on Nolan, Ben’s strength and speed to be able to catch it in the high post, put his nose down and get to the rim has been very effective for us. “
Tristan Fisher had 10 points for the Panthers and Brian Taylor had nine.
A two-point lead was about the only separation that could be found between the teams throughout most of the first half.
There were few openings to find shots and when there were the rebounds were hotly contested as well.
“I think them being concerned about Nolan so much definitely opened up some things up for some other guys and those guys stepped up,” Schadegg said. “We talked about it halftime ... let Nolan be the decoy, everybody else get the ball and go to work. We made some good shots and some good things happened.”