MOUNT VERNON — Defense helped Murphysboro overachieve this season and win 23 games. Defense enabled the Red Devils to crawl back into Wednesday night’s Class 3A Mount Vernon regional semifinal after falling behind Salem 14-0.
But Murphysboro’s inability to consistently score the basketball came back to haunt it in a season-ending fourth quarter. The Red Devils made just 3-of-9 field goals and 1-of-4 free throws as they dropped a 43-33 decision in Changnon Gym.
“That’s been our MO all year. We struggle offensively,” Murphysboro coach Daryl Murphy said. “We have six or seven-minute stretches in every game where we just can’t score.”
That stretch happened right away in a win-or-die setting. The Red Devils (23-6) missed 11 straight shots to begin the game until Jaron Gaston banked in a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats (18-9) lived off that start all game, even when they ground to a halt in the middle two quarters. With Devondre Gaston exerting terrific pressure out front and forcing Salem to start its halfcourt patterns well behind the 3-point line, Murphysboro clawed its way back into contention.
Gaston hounded the Wildcats relentlessly. He switched onto three different players during one third quarter possession, helping to force a turnover. And when Jacob Morgan swished a corner 3 with 4.6 seconds left in the period, Murphysboro was somehow within 26-25.
Another Morgan 3 off a Jeremy House assist answered a Dawson Linder 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. But the Red Devils never could get out of chase mode, and Salem finally put them away at the free throw line.
Linder, Damond Crosby and Kaden Wayer combined to make 10 in a row, eight of them coming in the last three minutes of the game. House was the only Murphysboro player to score down the stretch, and his departure on fouls with 1:19 left served as checkmate.
House tallied a game-high 16 points in his final high school game. He was the only Red Devil to make a 2-point shot. Seven of their 10 field goals were 3s. The Wildcats’ man-to-man defense cut off most forms of penetration and Murphysboro offered no post threat.
Crosby scored 13 points and Linder added 12 for Salem, which will play Centralia Friday night for the regional title.
Many thought the Red Devils would oppose the Orphans in that game, but their offensive limitations kept them from making that matchup occur.
“For this group to win 23 games, unbelievable,” Murphy summed up. “Heck of an effort by our group, but we just couldn’t make enough shots. We had to scratch and claw for everything.”