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BENTON — Meridian coach Erik Griffin had a theory why his team played perhaps its best game of the season Tuesday.

“I think they were happy to see me,” he grinned. “I’ve been sick and I had to miss a game. I haven’t seen them since Wednesday.”

Watching the Bobcats play the opening game of the 45th Benton Invitational would make just about anyone feel well, except for Sesser-Valier.

With all five starters scoring in double figures, Meridian built a 27-point lead before the third quarter ended and coasted to an impressive 77-58 rout at Rich Herrin Gym.

Punching well above their Class 1A weight class this season, the Bobcats are only 10-8. But the tough schedule is by design. Few teams in their class will be able to outmatch them physically and athletically, and everything came together after the first five minutes of this one.

Meridian missed a spate of easy shots inside early, but once it started converting, the game got one-sided pretty fast. Ja’Quan Jones expanded a 15-10 first quarter lead with a personal nine-point run in just over a minute that made it 26-12 Bobcats less than two minutes into the second quarter.

“He’s capable of carrying us offensively at times,” Griffin said of Jones. “He plays so hard on both ends of the floor and he’s unselfish. Guys feed off him.”

Taking Jones’ cue, his teammates attacked. Jones led the charge with a game-high 18 points. Demareon Nicholson added 17, Eddie Robertson netted 13 points, Demond Vasser scored 12 and Darnell Lowe hit for 10 points.

Meridian sank nearly 55 percent of its field goal attempts, shooting a plethora of layups against an opponent that wasn’t quick enough to keep it from getting to the bucket.

“We counted 10 uncontested layups in the first half,” Red Devils coach Shane Garner said.

Sesser-Valier (11-6) played shorthanded, as junior guard Tyler Winchester was under the weather. But even a healthy Winchester wouldn’t have made the difference, not the way the Bobcats controlled play on both ends.

“It shouldn’t have affected our defense or our energy,” Garner said of Winchester’s absence.

Peyton Rock scored 13 points for the Red Devils, which committed 19 turnovers and were often pushed well beyond the 3-point line while running their halfcourt sets by their physical opponent. Nicholson rejected a pair of shots, spiking one into the floor with such force that it might have left an indentation on the baseline.

Pinckneyville drilled Carlyle 70-37 in the second game, led by 11 points each from Grant Jausel, J.C. Moll and Dawson Yates.

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