Boys Basketball

At Nashville, success on the basketball court begins and ends with defense

Wayne Harre is in his second season as head basketball coach at Nashville High School.
Wayne Harre is in his second season as head basketball coach at Nashville High School.

It was a little over six years ago when the Nashville Hornettes, a team built around patience, discipline and unrelenting defense, won the IHSA Class 2A Girls State Basketball championship.

This weekend at the Peoria Civic Center, Nashville will attempt to win another state championship, this one on the boys side. But these Hornets play with the same philosophy and defense-first mindset under coach Wayne Harre.

In his second year as boys coach after a long and successful tenure as Nashville’s girls coach, Harre has the Hornets two wins away from their first state title since 1978 entering a semifinal game Friday against Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley beginning at 7:15 p.m.

As always, defense will be a key for Nashville which hasn’t allowed more than 39 points in its last 16 games.

“You have to have the kids are willing to buy into your system. It’s no secret that playing good defense means you have to have players are willing to work hard. These kids have done that,’’ Harre said. “The saying is that hard work pays off. For this group of kids, that’s been the case.”

The top-ranked Class 2A team in the state for much of the season, Nashville is making its 11th trip to the state finals and first since dropping a triple overtime thriller to Bloomington Central Catholic in the 2014 2A title contest. Their semifinal opponent, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (32-2) is making their first ever trip to the state tournament.

Chicago Public League powers Chicago Corliss (20-8) and Chicago Orr (23-11) will battle in the first semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The semifinal winners will play for the Class 2A state title at 7:15 p.m. on Friday. Orr is the two-time defending Class 2A state champions and is making its fifth trip to the Peoria Civic Center since 2013.

Riding a 16-game winning streak, Nashville hasn’t lost since dropping back-to-back games to Briarcrest Christian from Eads, Tennessee, in the title game of the Mater Dei Holiday Tournament and River-to-River Conference rival Pinckneyville to begin the new year. Just 18 hours after losing the overtime game to Pinckneyville, the Hornets bounced back, beating a strong Effingham Flaming Hearts team, 57-48 at the Highland Shootout.

“That was one of the turning points of the season,’’ Harre said. “After getting beat pretty good by a very athletic Briarcrest team and then losing on a shot at the buzzer against Pinckneyville. we had to come right back the next day and play a good Effingham team.

“I was very concerned about how we would respond, but kids reacted very well and came out and played very well. That was a big win for us starting the second half of the season.’’

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley may be making its state basketball tournament debut on Friday, but its athletes know the pressure of the state spotlight. This past November, the Falcons won their second straight Class 2A state football championship.

“I haven’t seen them yet, but with back-to-back state football championships, I’m sure they are very athletic and I’m assuming some of those kids play basketball,’’ Harre said.

Senior Ryland Holt, a 6-5 guard, leads the Falcons in scoring at 14.4 ppg, while 6-2 forward Bryce Barnes averages 14.1 points. That duo will be keys for the Falcons offense which faces its biggest challenge in denting the Nashville defense. In five postseason games, Nashville has allowed just 133 points.

“That is almost hard to believe. As good as they were on defense during the regular season, they’ve been even better in the tournament,’’ Falcons coach Ryan Tompkins said. “We have to make sure we make every possession count. and take good, high percentage shots.’’

McKendree University recruit Bryson Bultman and junior Carson Parker, both 6-5 guard/forwards, lead Nashville in scoring at just under 15 points per game.

Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.