SPARTA — The Alton Marquette Explorers are undefeated for a reason.
They can shoot it from long range and they have great size inside, as the Murphysboro Red Devils found out on Saturday night in the championship game of the Sparta Mid-Winter Classic.
Alton Marquette hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter, then used its advantage inside in the second half to win the tournament by a score of 55-43.
"They just came out and bum-rushed us,'' Murphysboro coach Daryl Murphy said of Alton Marquette. "They are solid and they are tough."
The four treys helped the Explorers (20-0) build a 20-10 lead heading into the second period. But both teams struggled on the offensive end in the frame and Alton Marquette held a 24-17 lead at the break.
A 3-pointer by Jaron Gaston to open the second half pulled Murphysboro (14-5) to within four points at 24-20. But the Explorers scored seven of the next nine points for a 31-22 lead.
Jeremy House would hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the third quarter to make it 31-28. But that would be as close as the Red Devils would get, thanks in large part to the play of Alton Marquette's 6-foot-6 junior post player Nick Hemann.
Hemann converted on two conventional three-point plays late in the third, then hit a shot at the buzzer to give the Explorers a 42-32 advantage.
Jake Hall, a 6-7 senior, scored inside to start the final period of play, and a trey by Chris Hartrich gave Alton Marquette a 47-32 lead with six minutes remaining in the contest.
Gaston led Murphysboro with a game-high 24 points. House finished with 12 points.
Hemann scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to pace Alton Marquette. Isaiah Ervin added 11 points for the Explorers.