CHRISTOPHER – Those who say you can’t win a game in the first quarter might want to check out the video from Goreville’s 54-45 Black Diamond Conference West verdict over Christopher Friday night.
The Blackcats needed just 2:33 to establish a 9-0 lead that held up all game, even though they couldn’t put away the Bearcats until the last minute. Landon Albright scored a game-high 18 points and freshman Briley Dunn added 14 as Goreville improved to 11-7 overall and 4-1 in the conference, staying a game behind front-runners Chester and Sesser-Valier.
“I thought after the first quarter our concentration went down a little bit,” Blackcats coach Todd Tripp said. “I’m not saying we didn’t play hard, but we let them hang around and when you do that at their place, you’re going to end up in a barnburner.”
With Winter Storm Gia blanketing the area with increasing amounts of snow, Goreville unleashed a first quarter avalanche. The Bearcats (8-8, 2-2) started the game this way: Turnover, turnover, turnover, turnover.
The Blackcats formulated this response: Layup by Dunn, layup by Dunn, runner by Luke Brown, 3-pointer by Dunn. Christopher coach Eric Stallman took a 30-second timeout, but the damage was done at that point
“We just turned the ball over way too much in the first half,” Stallman said. “You can’t do that against a good team like that. Four straight to start the game ... and if you don’t guard, you really put yourself in a hole.”
The deficit reached 21-7 early in the second quarter before the Bearcats finally gained a little traction, using their superior height inside. Six-six center Gage Hawkins checked in with two free throws and a couple of stickbacks, and 6-4 freshman Peyton Mazur shook free underneath for a couple of layups. Christopher went into halftime trailing just 29-20.
But Goreville upped the lead to a game-high 41-26 at the 2:07 mark of the third quarter when Albright converted a layup, and more or less lived off that cushion over the last 10 minutes.
It wasn't exactly a classic closeout for the Blackcats, who turned the ball over seven times in the fourth quarter and missed three foul shots in the last minute that could have made life a bit easier.
With freshman guard Gabe Sveda tallying 10 of his team-high 14 points in the fourth, Christopher drew within 49-43 with less than two minutes left and had a chance to draw within one possession.
Sveda got open for a clean look at a 3-pointer, but simply couldn't connect. Albright bagged a 3-point play on the other end to wrap it up.
The maturation of Albright from a role player on last year's team that reached the Class 1A semifinals into a team leader has helped Goreville progress faster than looked possible after a pair of rocky losses in its tournament to start the season.
"He works so hard down there in the post," Tripp said of the 6-2 junior. "Next thing you know, he has a couple of putbacks and a couple of and-ones. He's a scrapper. He doesn't jump higher or run faster, but he's deceiving athletically. He's better than what you think."
Albright canned 8-of-10 shots from the field, a big reason why the Blackcats canned 52.6 percent on the night.
While Goreville continues its bid for a conference title in a retooling year, the Bearcats continue the search for consistency.
"It's clearly a process, but I'm not going to scrap the guys I've got," Stallman said. "We'll keep working with them, and hopefully, they'll keep getting better."