A year ago, Tarkus Ferguson got to feel pure joy as a member of the Cahokia Comanches after they defeated the Althoff Crusaders to win a Class 3A regional title.
On Friday at Mascoutah High School, Ferguson felt joy again — only this time he was wearing the blue and gold of Althoff.
Playing against his former team for the third time this season, Ferguson scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the first half as Althoff built a big lead then survived a late Cahokia comeback attempt to defeat the Comanches 65-53 in the title game of the Class 3A Mascoutah Regional.
Knocked out of the playoffs by the Comanches on at least three occasions since winning their last regional title in 2009, the Crusaders came out firing in the second quarter. Ferguson, Brendon Gooch and Jordan Goodwin combined for 16 points when Althoff turned a two-point lead into a 33-22 halftime cushion.
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Twice in the second half, the Crusaders lead grew to as many as 15 points.
But the Comanches refused to quit.
Cutting the lead to 53-49 with 2:52 remaining on a basket by senior Jeremy Franklin, Cahokia got the ball back, but Ferguson blocked a shot in the lane which led to a layup by sophomore C.J,. Coldon, increasing the lead to six points.
Cahokia (11-16) would get no closer as Althoff, which made just 19 of 32 from the foul line in the second half, pulled away in the final 90 seconds.
Following the win, Ferguson tried to avoid questions about playing his old team.
“I have brothers on both sides,’’ Ferguson said. “In the first half, we wanted to hit some shots to give us some momentum. We knew they (Cahokia) would make a run at us because they are a good team.’’
In winning the regional, Althoff (25-3) advances to the Carbondale Sectional where it will take on the Civic Memorial Eagles on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Civic Memorial defeated Jerseryville 53-45 to win the Jerseyville Regional on Friday.
“It’s been a long time coming. I’m just happy for the kids and my coaching staff. This is a great group and we’ve worked very hard to get to this point,’’ Althoff coach Greg Leib said. “Cahokia’s had our number the last few times in the regional and tonight they were like pests. We tried Raid and we used pesticides on them, but they wouldn’t go away.
“With what has happened the last few years in the regional is this win any more special? I think any time you can win a game in early March, it’s pretty special.
Ferguson led Althoff with 21 points while Gooch (19) and Goodwin (16) were also in double figures. Senior guard Montez Crumble topped Cahokia with 17 points. Franklin added 10.
Althoff had a chance to extend its lead early in the second half, but when Gooch missed four free-throw attempts in the third quarter, it was a sign of things to come. The Crusaders were just three of nine in the period, but still extended their lead to 44-31 entering the final stanza.
A 3-point basket by Crumble and four points apiece from Franklin and DeVonte Williams keyed the Cahokia comeback, which was culminted by a Franklin basket which cut the lead to six.
But as he did all night, Ferguson made big play after big play. None of them bigger than his blocked shot, which led to a Crusaders’ layup.
“His weakside defensive help was as good as it’s been all year,” Leib said of Ferguson’s defense. “And when the kids see him helping out, they want to get involved as well.
“The free throws are something we work on everyday in practice. I thought we were getting better at making them. But Brendon (Gooch) made some big ones in the last couple of minutes to increase the lead.’’
Cahokia coach Darian Nash said he was proud of the the way his team kept battling back.
“We didn’t quit. We kept battling and gave ourselves a chance in the end. I have no comment on (Tarkus) Ferguson,’’ Nash said. “We mave be senior heavy, but experience wise is where we lacked. We just didn’t have the one player who could push us over the top like we’ve had in recent years.
“But our sophomores got a taste of it and they’re a good group. We’ll be back.’’
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.