It was a regular season game with a postseason feel.
In front of a packed house at Davenport Gymnasium Monday night, Harrisburg and Gallatin County treated respective fans to a contest that virtually proved why the two ballclubs could be considered the best in their classes.
Class 1A Gallatin County gave 2A Harrisburg all it could handle through three and a half quarters before the Bulldogs were able to pull away with a 59-42 victory in the Harrisburg Invitational.
Tyler Smithpeters led the charge for the 'Dogs, coming up with a game-high 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field as Capel Henshaw caught fire in the second half, coming up with 14 points to finish with 17 on 6-of-11 shooting.
Gallatin County (0-1) was led by 6-foot-11 big man Andrew Drone, who's 22 points on 11-of-17 shooting were hard to come by because of a Harrisburg two-man trap every time the Rice University signee touched the rock.
It was that relentless defense, a calling card of Harrisburg (1-0) for the past couple of seasons that helped them used a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter to turn a five-point lead into a 12-point lead.
"I thought tonight went as well for us as we could hope for," said Harrisburg head coach Randy Smithpeters. "We knew coming in with five practices that we weren't prepared to do a lot of things. I was worried about conditioning and I think that was more of a factor on the shooting end than it was on the defensive end.
"Gallatin is a good team, a tough team with Drone that you have to put a lot of weight on to contain him, which you're not going to do and that opens up things for a lot of other people. I'm happy with the effort, but the fact that we wanted to be patient. We didn't want turnovers to become such a factor that it would cost us the game. I think for the most part, we did that."
Harrisburg forced the Hawks into 16 turnovers, while the Bulldogs shot 20-of-41 from the field.
To their credit, the Bulldogs only had eight turnovers and limited Gallatin County to 19-of-35 shooting from the field.
Despite the numbers, the one that stood out for Hawks' head coach Robert Patton was the one in the offensive rebounding column.
"They got 23 offensive rebounds, we got seven and that's where the game was won and lost right there."
Already playing with three fouls, Anthony Storto picked up his fourth when he fouled Smithpeters beyond the arc as Harrisburg's swingman cashed in on the made trifecta by sinking his free throw to give the Bulldogs a 31-23 lead with 3:53 to play in the third quarter.
"To me, that was the ballgame right there," Patton said.
Page 2 of 2 - Three consecutive turnovers to start the fourth quarter helped Harrisburg take a 38-33 lead and turn it into a 45-33 advantage with Harrisburg working in transition, stretching the lead and giving Smithpeters some room to breathe.
"The first half was really nip and tuck and this being the first game out, I was concerned when we got behind a little bit, because we didn't make some very good decisions on shot selection and we didn't want to get behind by six or eight where they could really slow it down and do things more suited for them. We were able to avoid that."
Smithpeters also acknowledged that there's something to be said for Gallatin County coming over to play in the Harrisburg Invitational, more so than the Hawks just replacing former clubs like Goreville and Anna-Jonesboro that joined forces to make the Goreville Invitational this year.
"I appreciate Patton and that program coming up here and playing a contest like this. You have to respect a program that is going to step up and face a challenge. There's no question we were going to be pretty good this year and instead of going someplace and winning five games by 20 points, Gallatin decided to come here and try to make themselves better. I just have a lot of respect for programs and people that think that way."
The Invitational resumes on Wednesday night with Gallatin County facing Carmi-White County at 6 p.m., while Harrisburg will take on Hamilton County at 7:30 p.m.
Hamilton County took out Carmi-White County 51-45 in the first contest Monday night.
Michael Dann can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @spydieshooter.