DU QUOIN — The collars on Cairo’s road uniforms are pure white.
Given the Pilots’ defensive effort and work on the boards, they might want to go with a blue collar motif. Cairo’s persistence paid off with a 56-49 win over Du Quoin at the Du Quoin Tip-Off Tournament.
Cairo shared the championship with Massac County, a 66-56 winner over Gallatin County Saturday. The Pilots were the defending tournament champions.
The Pilots fell behind early as Du Quoin’s Braeden Pursell poured in eight points in the first three minutes, staking the Indians to a 10-3 lead. The Pilots chipped away, taking a 13-11 lead with 1:49 remaining in the quarter on a pair of Alton Hervey free throws.
Cairo never relinquished that lead, but the Pilots could never put the Indians away either. The Pilots led by double digits for less than 30 seconds.
“We’re going through some growing pains,” said Cairo coach Larry Wood. “We have a very young team. That happens when you have a young team. As they mature, we’ll get better.”
The Pilots offensive inconsistency allowed the Indians to close to within 25-24 in the first minute of the second half, but when Cairo needed a score they always seemed to get it. This time Terrell Jones hit a trey from deep in the corner to keep Du Quoin at arm’s length.
“We seemed to gamble or do something and they’d come up with the basketball and get a lay up,” said Du Quoin coach Jason James. “Or, we’d over help and they’d kick it out and hit a clutch three just to keep it around five or six the entire game. We just couldn’t get past that 5-6 point mark. They have a quick team and they get out and get after it.”
The game was still within five points with 3:21 remaining when Westly Milam scored on an offensive rebound. However, Cairo responded with a 6-0 run, keyed by Hervey’s offensive rebound with 1:36 left.
The Pilots held a nine-point lead at the time and took an ill-considered perimeter shot, but Hervey, who was a force on the boards all night, snatched the rebound and padded the Cairo lead.
“When he plays well we play well because he can control the game on the inside,” Wood said.
“We had a hard time rebounding tonight and we didn’t do a good job in transition defense,” James said. “We didn’t get back and gave them too many easy buckets and too many easy lay ups.”
And, in the end it was Cairo’s constant defensive pressure that made the difference.
“Everything was tough,” James said. “Even when we got fast breaks their transition defense would get back and challenge our shots. I thought we had a few good looks I wish we could have back and put in the bucket to make it a little tighter game.”
Cairo placed four players in double figures, led by Isaiah Brown’s 14 points. Riko Nelson had 11 while Jones and Hervey both scored 10.
Pursell had 14 for Du Quoin, the only Indian to reach double figures.