The Du Quoin boys basketball team came within an eyelash of one those upsets that comes around once a year -- if even that often -- last Friday against the mighty Nashville Hornets at venerable Anders Gymnasium.
"We hadn't played zone all year and decided to go into a 2-3, because they had more size on us and we wanted to give ourselves a chance to control the boards," said Du Quoin coach Jason James. "We did a pretty good job keeping them to one shot and out, giving up just four offensive boards."
"That allowed us to take our time on offense and not force passes to turn it over to keep it a close ballgame and have a chance at the end."
Du Quoin started the game strong, taking a 5-0 lead. They didn't give up that lead until the end of the first quarter when the Hornets drained a 3 at the buzzer to go ahead 10-9.
The Hornets rode that momentum to a 23-15 lead at the half and held on despite scoring just six points in the third to take a 29-24 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Indians defense remained rock solid, giving up six points in the final frame for a second half total of 12 points -- after giving up 23 in the first 16 minutes -- to give the Indians chance for the upset.
"We contested their shots holding them to just 1-for-13 from the 3," James said. "At the end when we started to put a little more pressure they kind of panicked and turned the ball over more than I figured they would. They were just trying to hold on to win the game at the end."
Du Quoin had pulled within four points at 35-31 when Kadin Mays was fouled on a successful shot and made his free throw to cut the lead to 35-34 with 21 seconds remaining.
The Indians defense came up big again forcing the Hornets into a turnover, but they couldn't convert -- missing a shot on the other end and forcing Coach James to call a timeout with 12 seconds left.
"We pressured them in a half-court trap and they turned it over," James said. "We came down and missed the shot, so we fouled them and Matt Anderson (who had made his previous two free throw attempts) missed the front of a 1-and-1 with 17 seconds left and we called a timeout with 12 left."
When play resumed the play called wasn't there, so the backup plan went into effect. Dasani Edwards took a 3-point shot that bounced off the back of the rim and into the lane, where Braeden Pursell was waiting.
"We set up a play out of bounds to try to get Pursell on a back pick curl getting him to post up and they took it away with three defenders," James said. "We ran 'Sani' off a screen from the right wing and took a shot and missed it. It actually looked good from our angle, but it hit the back of the rim and kicked up in the air."
Pursell battled with Nashville's best player, Carson Parker, for the rebound. Pursell won, getting his hand on the ball enough to tip it back up, but as the buzzer sounded the ball rolled off the rim.
It left the Indians with a 34-35 moral victory, but not the win.
"Pursell got the tip and it went off the backboard and rolled in and rolled out," James said.
Pursell and Mays led the Indians with 14 points each with Wade Roberson finished with four points and Jacob Green two.
"When we did get beat the kids showed some emotion because they thought they fought hard and had a chance to win," James said. "We really haven't showed that of emotion so much this year. I told the kids to keep their heads up and use this to build upon."
Loss to Trico
But with all the emotion from the night before, the Indians came out flat the next day in the annual Trico girls/boys doubleheader. The boys fell to Trico 43-38 to drop to 6-11 on the season.
"The energy level from Nashville to Trico was totally different," James said. "We're 6-11 and out of the 11 losses seven could have gone the other way. We're just fighting to get over the hump and pull out the victories."
Failing to find the bottom of the net on their first 13 shots of the game the Indians shot just .333 from the field (17-of-51) and only .167 from beyond the arc (2-of-12). Pursell led the team with 20 points with Robinson finishing with eight and Mays with seven.
"For us to have any shot at winning a first round regional game we have to get better and that's on me," James said. "I still think we can turn it around. It's just going to an uphill battle from here on out."
This week the Indians take their 6-11 record into the inaugural Johnston City Arrowhead Classic. Du Quoin plays Johnston City Monday, Christopher Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Eldorado Thursday at 6 p.m. and Anna-Jonesboro Saturday at 6 p.m.
"These are going to be competitive games we feel could go either way," James said. "Christopher and Eldorado have pretty good records, but we all are still trying to find our identities and whoever finds that the fastest is going to come out with victories."