DU QUOIN — Two months ago, Nashville lost 31-29 at Pinckneyville when the Panthers’ four corners offense drove it to such distraction offensively that it played too fast and committed 14 turnovers.
On Friday night, when confronted with another opponent which wanted to spread the floor and play at the pace of rush-hour traffic, the Hornets demonstrated how much they learned from that night in Perry County.
Nashville grinded out an eight-point halftime lead, then methodically put Alton Marquette away in the second half for a 37-22 victory and the Class 2A Du Quoin Sectional title at sold-out Anders Gym.
The Hornets (33-2) move on to an 8 p.m. game Tuesday at the SIU Super-Sectional against Teutopolis, which rallied for a 55-47 win over Fairfield in the finals of the Vandalia Sectional. It will be a rematch of a Feb. 2 game in Benton that Nashville won 57-39, outscoring the Wooden Shoes 33-15 in the second half.
“We’re going to enjoy this one tonight,” Hornets coach Wayne Harre said, “and then we’re going to prepare for Tuesday night and give it our best shot.”
Explorers coach Steve Medford thought his team’s best shot was to take as few of them as they had to. There was reason to believe so coming into the game. Marquette started four players 6-1 or smaller, including 5-6 and 5-11 guards. Nashville trotted out a front line averaging just over 6-5.
After the Hornets turned the ball over to start the game, the Explorers passed and cut. Passed and cut. Passed and cut. They burned nearly two minutes of clock before missing.
That was nothing compared to their final possession of the first quarter, which saw them melt more than two minutes as they stood in the four corners. After all that, Marquette entered an airball as its shot of choice. Nashville led 4-3.
In a quarter that would probably be exhibit 1A for the prosecution in the case of shot clock vs. no shot clock, each team had just four possessions.
“We knew that if we were going to play up and down all night, it would probably favor them,” Medford said. “The big thing was we wanted to get a lead, whether it was 4-0 or 6-0. We wanted to shorten the game.
“We thought there were a few matchups we could expose, but unfortunately, we could never get the lead. The margin of error in this game was really small.”
And got smaller as the Hornets achieved separation in the latter part of the second quarter, patiently working for good shots and then converting. Kelton Harre stuck a 3-pointer with 4:43 left for a 9-3 margin, and Bryce Bultman made it 15-7 by driving for a layup in the last two minutes.
Nashville went 6 of 9 from the field in the half and committed just two turnovers in its 13 possessions. Meanwhile, the Explorers made just 3 of 12 shots and were only 1 of 5 on 3-pointers.
“We’ve worked on our defense a lot lately,” said Carson Parker, whose 12 points tied Harre for game honors. “We worked on staying in front of them.”
Bultman’s steal and layup upped the margin to 23-11 late in the third quarter. Now it was the Hornets spreading the floor and making Marquette play the chase game. Nashville used its height advantage judiciously, passing over traps and converting just enough to pull away.
The lead reached 16 with just over four minutes before the Explorers’ one spasm of competence offensively – an 8-0 burst – made it 30-22 with 3:20 left on a Cortez Harris runner. But Harre helped seal the outcome by hitting 5 of 6 free throws.
Nick Hemann managed nine points for Marquette, which was 9 of 26 from the field and was outboarded 17-13, collecting only three offensive caroms.
After his team posed for pictures with the sectional championship trophy, Wayne Harre praised their defensive effort.
“They run their offense so precisely,” Harre said. “We didn’t want to give up any easy baskets. I just thought our defense was tremendous.”