In a game eerily reminiscent of their first meeting, Central and Marquette threw solid defense at each other Tuesday and the game wasn’t decided until the closing seconds.
Central escaped with a 38-34 semifinal victory that sent the Cougars into the Class 2A Pinckneyville Sectional final as junior Jack Strieker led the way with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Strieker, a 6-foot-2 junior, came up big early in the fourth quarter when the Explorers (21-10) cut Central’s lead to 29-25 on three straight scoring possessions. Strieker answered with a 3-pointer and also sank two free throws with 21.7 seconds remaining to preserve the win at Duster Thomas Gymnasium.
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“He hasn’t been struggling, but he hasn’t been shooting it as much,“ Central coach Jeremy Shubert said. “He’s our second-leading scorer, we needed him to take more shots and he wasn’t taking enough shots for us.
“I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing, but hopefully he gets confidence from this that he can score.”
He hasn’t been struggling, but he hasn’t been shooting it as much. He’s our second-leading scorer, we needed him to take more shots and he wasn’t taking enough shots for us.
Central coach Jeremy Shubert on Jack Strieker
The win pushed Central (28-4) into the sectional final at 7 p.m. Friday against the winner of the Wednesday semifinal between Nashville and Pinckneyville.
Central had beaten Marquette 38-36 on Feb. 19 on a last-second shot by Logan Kohrmann and this one was nearly as tight after Marquette overcame an early 10-point deficit.
“First game 38-36, this game a four-point game,” Strieker said. “It was a good defensive battle. I really let my defense convert to offense tonight. Pressured, tried to steal, get some easy baskets. I feel more in tempo when I’m in transition.
“Coach wants at least three guys in double figures and we got two tonight.”
Shubert hopes to see more scoring from Strieker as the playoffs progress.
“I can’t say enough about Jack Strieker stepping up and being our leading scorer tonight,” he said. “That was very important for us. He needed that for confidence purposes and we need that consistently from him however long our season goes.”
Kohrmann was the other with 13 points and also played some extremely tight defense on Marquette star Shandon Boone. Boone had a team-high 15 points, but was limited to 6-for-16 shooting and sank only three of his nine 3-point tries.
Our lack of scoring all year long has really hurt us and it kind of shows up in these big games like this.
Marquette coach Steve Medford
Marquette also committed most of its 14 turnovers during the first half and Central’s defense helped the Cougars overcome a rough 12-for-36 shooting night overall (33 percent).
“That’s what wins it in the postseason guys, and I’ve got to commend my guys for stepping up and having an outstanding game defensively,” Shubert said. “I think we turned them over 13 times in the first half and that was big and kind of took some wind out of them a bit.
“It was a great defensive win for us.”
Marquette also got 13 points from Ben Sebacher, who scored nine of those in the fourth quarter. Boone hit a tough off-balance shot off a turnover with 23 seconds remaining to cut Central’s lead to 36-34, but Strieker answered with two free throws for the final margin.
“Our lack of scoring all year long has really hurt us and it kind of shows up in these big games like this,” Marquette coach Steve Medford said, who watched Central answer every one of the Explorers’ runs in the second half. “I hung my head about two or three different times whenever they hit those shots. Even in the third quarter ... when we we held them to five points we only scored four.
“That was kind of a killer for us.”