Strong fourth quarter pushes Fairfield past Aces
CARMI, Ill. -- Mount Carmel head coach Tyler Buss had been preparing his team for the Carmi-White County Invitational for some time, stating to his team the importance of this tournament and the opportunity they had been presented. Their main game of the week-long tournament, against Fairfield. The Mules have earned the hype factor in Southern Illinois after their 17-2 start to the year and would have been a major notch to the Aces resume if they were to beat Fairfield.
Coach Buss had called for Aces fans to make the 45 minute drive down south for the late 8:30 p.m. tip-off and the fans responded. The lower level of the gym was almost completely full. His Aces stayed pace with the Mules in a tight knit back and forth affair leading up to the fourth quarter, but succumbed to Fairfield’s pressure in the fourth, falling 66-53 on Wednesday night in the Carmi-White Invitational.
One thing you couldn’t fault the Aces for on Wednesday night was their resiliency. They battled time and time again, whether it be fighting back against Fairfield’s lead, or pushing to claim their own lead.
Fairfield boasted an eight-point lead with under four minutes to go in the first half, but Mount Carmel rallied back. The Aces closed the gap to just four (26-22) after an and-one by sophomore Beau Stipp, setting the stage for a second half comeback to continue their momentum.
Mount Carmel’s strong play continued right out of the break, tying the game at 26-26 after a layup from senior Austin Rager and a layup from sophomore Kaleb Applebey.
The two teams battled for the remainder of the third quarter, taking each other’s best shot and continuously responding. The quarter ended with both teams knotted at 42-42 even.
Senior Bret Doan gave the Aces their final lead of the night at 47-46 on a 3-pointer with under six minutes remaining. After that, it was all Mules. Their defensive pressure caused some uncharacteristic Mount Carmel miscues, coupled with some missed shot opportunities for the Aces. Both factors allowed the Mules to expand their lead to five with just over a minute remaining, turning the game into a free throw shooting contest. To Fairfield’s credit, they shot exceptionally well at the line in the fourth, shooting 13-15 from the charity stripe in the final period.
Applebey had a tremendous game in a losing effort for the Aces. The sophomore big just out bullied the Mules at times for loose balls, boards, and posted a team-high 18 points. Doan scored 16 points, including 12 in the second half. The Mules held Rager to just 12 points as they seemingly tried to force Mount Carmel to make someone else step up and beat them. Coach Buss feels his sophomore big should have gotten some more touches in the fourth quarter.
“We knew we had something inside against these guys,” coach Buss spoke of Applebey’s advantage. “In a perfect world Kaleb gets a minute or two at the end of each quarter to recharge his battery, I know we ran him to death. He’s a kid, the Beau Stipp’s, the Austin Rager’s of the world can go forever, he probably needed a little bit more of a break than we gave him tonight but again, it was just a game where we felt we needed our guys out there. Even Kaleb at 70 percent is going to help us out in certain areas on the floor. Proud of Kaleb for the way he started, but again, we just had too many possessions in the third or fourth quarter where we didn’t get it inside.
One concern for Mount Carmel moving forward, free throw shooting. While their counterparts had a great game at the line, the Aces sat 3-for-10 from the charity stripe, including 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter, numbers that just can’t happen in a high intensity game against a very good opponent. Coach Buss mentioned that fatigue could have been a factor, with some tired Aces after having to play big minutes.
“We probably wore down tonight, but give our guys credit, 42-42 or whatever it was, anybody’s ballgame,” coach Buss said. “Unfortunately I don’t know what we were from the free throw line tonight, but they were very good from the free throw line and that told a big story I’m sure.”
Playing the caliber of minutes the Aces did is one thing, but the Aces also faced serious ball pressure much of the night against a very physical Fairfield team. The Mules utilized a lot of hand checking and harassing the ball handler. Such pressure can quickly wear down a team.
Mount Carmel fell to 7-11 on the year with the loss, while the Mules advanced to 18-2. Coach Buss remains confident in his group after the showing, citing the big game experience of his seniors as a major factor that’ll benefit the Aces down the road.
“Fairfield’s got the great record and they’re rightfully so the talk of the south, along with a few teams, but I knew we had a group that wasn’t going to back down from these guys,” coach Buss spoke of his team. “Especially these seniors, they’ve played in the state championship game, they have a whole hallway full of hardware, they know how to win big games. That’s what we kind of told them in the locker room, use that. We have the championship pedigree that’s going to pay off as we go forward.”
Mount Carmel faces Mount Vernon (Ind.) team next in the Invitational on Friday in Carmi at 5:30 p.m. The Wildcats enter the game 1-12, having lost to Fairfield 76-35 on Monday. It could serve as a nice bounce back game for the Aces.
F - 16 10 16 24 -- 66
MC - 11 11 20 11 -- 53
Mount Carmel scoring: Applebey 8 2 18, Doan 6 0 16, Rager 6 0 12, Stipp 3 1 7.