MARION — Veteran coach Randy Smithpeters wrote one word on the chalkboard in the Harrisburg locker room before Saturday night’s marquee non-conference game.
“Tough,” he said.
The Bulldogs showed plenty of it, physically and mentally, in capping a terrific weekend by rallying for a 55-53 overtime decision over Marion at Cuss Wilson Gym.
In upping its record to 13-3, Harrisburg went extra time for the second night in a row. After edging Murphysboro 63-60 Friday evening, the Bulldogs needed some last-shot heroics just to earn an extra four minutes.
Enter 6-2 senior guard Carson Burtis, who took Isaiah Saulsberry’s pass about a step behind the top of the key and launched against tight defense. So tight, in fact, that the defender appeared to tip the ball just after its release. But Burtis’ shot swished home with 4.0 seconds left to extend the game.
“That’s the kind of shooter Carson is,” Smithpeters said. “He’s capable of knocking down that type of shot for us.”
Harrisburg won without making a field goal in overtime. All six of its points came at the line, with Blake Drue snapping a 49-49 tie by sinking both ends of a one-and-one with 2:14 remaining.
Saulsberry, whose soft jumper seems to drip with finesse, added the last two of his game-high 23 points at the line with 54.6 seconds left. Justin Saddoris sandwiched a pair of driving layups around another Drue free throw to make it a one-point game.
Jordan Bartok hit the first of a two-shot foul with 4.8 seconds remaining and missed the second. But without a timeout remaining, the best the Wildcats (11-4) could do was a halfcourt heave by Saddoris that fell short as the buzzer sounded.
It ended a lost weekend of sorts for Marion, which was coming off a 66-49 loss Friday night to South Seven rival Carbondale. Saddoris delivered 19 points and reserve Cole Schafer hit for 11, but the Wildcats again got off to a slow start and couldn’t come up with one last defensive stand to salvage a split of the weekend.
“Both games this weekend, our first quarter has been bad,” Marion coach Gus Gillespie said. “We addressed it before the game tonight, but you don’t win when you get down in games and have to keep fighting back.”
Beyond the results, Smithpeters feels the Bulldogs learned and grew from the weekend.
“You work hard all the time and you get a little bit better sometimes, but other times, you just take a really big jump,” he said. “You say, ‘Wow, we can be really good if we do the little things.’ I think this group took a big step this weekend.”