SESSER — It was a telling difference, one that helped push Goreville past Christopher on Thursday and into the finals of the 37th Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament.
Backup guard Morgan Bishop drilled a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 2:35 left to start a game-ending 10-3 spurt that gave the Blackcats a 59-52 decision over the Bearcats in a semifinal matchup of Black Diamond Conference rivals.
Bishop’s 3 came 14 seconds after Bryce Pratt swished a 3 from the left wing, capping a Christopher comeback from a 35-20 third quarter deficit.
But endgame defense and superior depth favored Goreville (9-2). The Blackcats came up with three straight key stops, two of them off turnovers, and got 17 points from their reserves. Playing without 6-6 Jared Curry (knee), the Bearcats (8-3) rode their starting five most of the day and got no points off the bench.
“I told the kids before the ballgame, ‘You have that good balanced scoring, you’re going to be in the ballgame either way.’ And different kids stepped up,” Goreville coach Todd Tripp said.
After Bishop’s 3-pointer, it was Tanner Dunn converting on a jumper for a five-point lead. Braden Webb followed with a transition layup with under a minute left to make it 56-49, enabling the Blackcats to win the first of at least three meetings over the next six weeks.
Webb paced Goreville with 16 points, 10 in the first half, but sat out a four-minute stretch of the second half after committing his fourth foul on Bradley Young’s 3-point play . Dunn added 11 and eight rebounds.
Young scored a game-high 17 points for Christopher, 10 in the third quarter as he led their big comeback. Gage Hawkins contributed 13 points and seven rebounds, and Dalton Saeger netted 10 points before fouling out.
It was surprising that the Bearcats were able to maneuver around their foul trouble to make a game of it. Young and Pratt each had three fouls in the first half. Every starter drew at least four before the game ended, and Saeger fouled out.
“We were in foul trouble the entire game and we were missing one of our starters,” Christopher coach Eric Stallman said. “It limited what we could do. We could have executed a little better at the end.”
The Blackcats will play either top-seeded Woodlawn or Sesser-Valier for the tournament title Friday night at 7.
“I told the seniors, ‘You guys have played in this tournament for a while. This is your last chance to win this.’ They’re definitely excited to be in the championship game,” Tripp said.