The seeds continued to hold on the second day of the GEC Tournament at Southeastern Illinois College -- but not without a little in-game drama, before both games turned into sizeable routs.
NCOE 53, Hardin County 36
When Hardin County coach Brett Oxford had to burn a timeout just a couple minutes into Tuesday's opener -- after a long rebound led to a fast-break score by NCOE's Kody Sutton, putting his team up 8-2 -- it looked like it might be a very long night for the Cougars.
Momentum was about to swing in their direction, but not before the Cardinals built a pair of nine point leads in the second quarter. The second occurrence came on a three-pointer by Jordan Weiss, but Hardin answered with a trey of their own, from Kyle Holloman, and after an NCOE turnover, a score underneath by Dylan Davis.
That combo brought the Cougars within 20-16 with 3:15 to play, but it turned out that Weiss was just getting warmed up. En route to a 13-point frame overall, Weiss hit a deep three, converted a difficult, twisting layup and added a free throw for a three-point play, then canned another trey with 1:50 left, part of a 13-0 closing run to the half that nearly put the game out of reach for good.
Despite some mixed success in trying to run off some clock early in the frame, the Cards bumped their lead to 19 after three quarters, thanks in part to a seven point effort from Kyle Brown.
Hardin got no closer than 16 in the fourth quarter, as they failed to connect on a field goal until the 2:20 mark of the frame, before finishing with a flourish, including a buzzer-beating, long three by reserve guard Tony Parkinson.
Brown ended up leading NCOE with 18 points, with Weiss adding 17 and a team-best seven rebounds.
Ryan Davis led Hardin County with 13 points, including 10 in the second half. Holloman added 10.
CRAB ORCHARD 79, POPE COUNTY 49
Sportswriters may tire of using the phrase, "a game that was closer than the final score would indicate."
And it seems quite specious to suggest that phrase could apply to a game that reached 30-point "mercy rule" status early in the fourth quarter.
But in Tuesday's nightcap, Pope County truly did keep things close for the greater portion of the night, until a slew of late turnovers let things get out of hand.
The first half was tight almost throughout, despite a heavy dose of Ben Kissing. Crab's star forward lit up the boards for 13 first quarter points, and his three-point play put them up 14-8 with 3:31 leaf in the frame.
However, Pope struck right back, with a pullup jumper by Kyle Benard and a stickback by Tevis Sandefur getting Pope within 14-12. Kissing, for his part, responded with another three-point play, giving Crab some room to operate.
Another stickback for Sandefur got Pope within 24-20, but Kissing was there to take over again -- and this time in an even bigger way. He scored the game's next seven points, flashing versatility by doing so on a post-up, nailing a 17-footer from the baseline, and picking off a pass near midcourt, switching hands on a layup and hitting a foul shot for a three-point play.
With an additional runout bucket by Adam Perry, the Trojans' run reached 9-0 and their lead 13 points, and that was where it stood at halftime. With the Trojans' shooters struggling from outside, Kissing carried an enormous burden and did so well, with an amazing 24 points at the break.
Out of the break, one might have expected the Pirates -- already having struggled to stay in the game despite 10 turnovers -- to fold quickly.
Benard had other ideas. The senior guard went on a personal 7-0 run out of the halftime break, capped by an old-fashioned three-point play conversion with 6:26 left that amazingly cut Crab's lead to 41-35.
A greater rally was not to be, though. After a pair of free throws by Perry, Pope turned the ball over four straight times, with Crab converting on their end each time. Lorence Killen hit a 17-footer to push the lead to double digits, and the run reached 10-0 in just 90 seconds before Benard scored on an up-and-under move with 4:45 left to stop the bleeding.
The reprieve was short-lived, though, as the Trojans added a 19 more points in the final 4:45, and 10 more to their lead, before the quarter's end. Shortly after the start of the fourth quarter, a three by Dylan Hutson started the continuous clock.
Kissing led all scorers with 29 points. Perry added 21, with 10 coming in the third quarter that put the game away.
Benard finished with 25, and Stephen Simmons 10 and 12 boards for Pope.
NCOE and Crab Orchard will face each other in the first semifinal on Friday night at 7 p.m. That will be the second game of that night, following the seventh-place game at 5:30, and it will be followed by the second semifinal, between Carrier Mills and Gallatin County, at approximately 8:30 p.m.
Tournament play in the consolation bracket resumes Thursday. Pope County and Hardin County square off at 6:30, with Galatia and Thompsonville tangling at 8 p.m.
NCOE 53, Hardin County 36
NCOE 10 23 11 9 -- 53
HC 6 10 9 11 -- 36
NCOE: Brown 7 2-2 18, Weiss 7 1-3 17, Etienne 1 0-0 2, Short 1 1-2 3, Kerns 2 0-0 4, Sutton 3 0-0 7, Stecyk 0 2-2 2. Totals: 21 6-9 53.
HC: Holloman 3 3-5 10, German 1 0-0 2, Paskon 3 0-0 6, D. Davis 1 0-2 2, R. Davis 5 3-3 13, Parkinson 1 0-0 3. Totals: 14 6-10 36.
Three-point field goals: NCOE 5 (Weiss 2, Brown 2, Sutton 1), HC 2 (Holloman, Parkinson). Rebounds: NCOE 23 (Weiss 7), HC 25 (Paskon, R. Davis 6). Turnovers: NCOE 10, HC 9.
Crab Orchard 79, Pope County 49
PC 16 12 14 7 -- 49
CO 20 21 29 9 -- 79
PC: Benard 8 7-7 25, Simmons 5 0-1 10, Dunlap 2 0-0 4, Sandefur 2 2-2 6, Cockrum 2 0-0 4. Totals: 19 9-10 49.
CO: Killen 1 0-0 2, Wece 0 1-4 1, Johnson 3 2-2 9, Perry 6 9-12 21, Kissing 11 7-9 29, Boester 3 0-1 6, A. Emery 2 1-2 5, Dorries 0 0-1 0, Hutson 2 0-0 6, McGuire 0 0-2 0. Totals: 28 20-33 79.
Three-point field goals: PC 2 (Benard 2), CO 3 (Hutson 2, Johnson 1). Rebounds: PC 30 (Simmons 12), CO 29 (Kissing 7). Turnovers: PC 22, CO 11.