Marion rallied for a 53-50 victory over Herrin in the opening round of the Carbondale Class 3A Regional in boys basketball Monday night.
That's the who, what, when and where. The how is much more complicated. And even the what might not be accurate, depending on who you ask.
"That was not a basketball game," said Marion coach Shane Hawkins. "I don't know what that was, but it was awful."
It certainly wasn't pretty -- especially down the stretch -- but Marion (13-15) advances to the regional's Tuesday night semifinal game against top-seeded Carbondale at 7:30 p.m.
Holding a three-point lead after Malik Stuckey made two foul shots with 1:01 remaining, Marion missed seven straight free throws in the final minute -- the Wildcats missed 10 total freebies in the fourth quarter and were 11 of 24 for the game -- but the Tigers missed six shots from the floor and two free throws of their own.
A scoreless final minute with plenty of shots at the basket, including two great looks by Herrin's Justin Lukens from the top of the key that could have tied the game. But when neither team could make a basket, the Wildcats eked out the win.
"A couple of those shots Justin took from the top, I thought they were down," said Herrin coach Irv Lukens. "I really did and everybody else did, too. They were right there and didn't fall. But we also had some putbacks that could have cut it to within one and changed the outlook of the game but they didn't fall and we had three or four looks."
The first 31 minutes of the game were, at the very least, entertaining.
Herrin held a 12-9 lead after a 3-pointer by Dylan Chrostoski, but a driving bank shot by Jawan Tucker pulled Marion to within a point at the first stop. Herrin took an 18-13 lead on a basket from DeVante Branch and led 23-16 after a trey by Austin Butler with 2:46 left before halftime.
That followed two free throws by Carsen Cash for a foul committed moments earlier but not recognized as the seventh team foul by the referees or the scorer's table, a miscue that caused a lengthy delay and argument over possession but eventually was settled.
A steal and layup by Marion's Brant Hill cut the Tigers' lead to 23-18 at the break.
Herrin senior Alec Taitt scored the first basket of the second half and the Tigers built a 31-22 lead after four straight points by Butler. Moments later, a trey by Justin Lukens from the top of the key made it a double-digit margin at 38-38 with 2:18 left in the frame.
Tucker answered with his own triple and putback, then Herrin was forced to call timeout on an inbounds play but Stuckey reacted angrily on the inbound pass and was given a technical foul at the 1:30 mark of the third quarter.
Page 2 of 3 - Herrin only turned it into one point, however, and a Hill basket cut further into the Herrin lead. Chrostoski drilled a 3-pointer with 22 ticks left to give the Tigers a 42-35 lead going into the fourth period.
Marion turned up the defense and it led to a three-point play by Hill, who added a 3-pointer after a basket from Herrin's Brenden Beasley and suddenly the margin was down to three.
Stuckey re-entered and made a steal that led to another Hill layup after Cash converted three-point play to knock it down to 47-46 with four minutes left. Following a Lukens free throw, Tucker canned a trey from the left side and Marion had its first lead of the game at 49-48 with 3:42 remaining.
Another steal by Stuckey led to another Hill bucket for a four-point Marion lead. After Tucker missed a bonus free throw, Butler scored to cut it to 51-50 with 1:19 showing, but the Tigers wouldn't score again.
Stuckey's two free throws 18 seconds later ended up being the final points of the game.
"This just goes to show you, this sport right here, if you execute sometimes you still don't come out on the winning side. But they gave their all and that's what we were begging for," Irv Lukens said.
"I'm so proud of the kids and the way they battled," Lukens added. "They could have ducked their heads and said this is our last game and we're supposed to lose, but they didn't do that. They executed what we wanted to do and I thought we controlled the tempo the whole game. Marion made a couple of tough shots that got them back going and we just didn't deliver and answer them."
Hawkins wasn't as thrilled with his team's performance or effort. In that final minute, Tucker, Gabe Murphy and Colton Carter contributed to the seven straight misses at the foul line.
"We did a lot of pouting and complaining when things didn't go our way instead of having some toughness about ourselves and that's the part that has to change," Hawkins said. "That was the downer to the night and obviously not finishing the game the way you want to from the free throw line. We had the guys there we wanted, at least we thought we did, but you have to step up and make them."
Hill finished with 22 points, with 10 of them in the fourth quarter, to lead the Wildcats. Cash added 14 points, including an 8 for 9 showing at the foul line, and Tucker finished with 13 points but was 0 for 6 at the charity stripe.
"We fought back and this time of year it's survive and advance and move on and we were able to do that. Hopefully we've got our clunker out of the way," Hawkins said. "We've talked all year about being consistently good, instead of being very good like we were Friday against Cahokia and then coming here and being rotten awful tonight. If we can ever just be consistently good, then you don't have these types of nights."
Page 3 of 3 - Justin Lukens, who was Herrin's lone returning varsity player this season and is the head coach's son, scored 21 points to match his jersey number in his final game. Butler, a fellow senior, added 17 points.
"It's going to be harder on me after tonight when I really realize me and him aren't going to be on the floor together any more," Irv Lukens said of coaching his son. "I cherish every moment I've had with him the last three years at this level. I'm very proud of him."
Herrin improved by leaps and bounds throughout the season and finishes with a 12-17 record. It marked the end for seven seniors: Lukens, Butler, Chrostoski, Taitt, Beasley, Jerral Pirtle and Jonas Hogenschurz.
"They weren't dealt a good hand," Irv Lukens said. "They had no experience and I was trying to force them into action as we went. It was a struggle at times but at the end we really started playing well together.
"If we had gotten this one, no telling what could have happened."