CARBONDALE — It was like watching a baseball team get the other team’s ace pitcher on the ropes in the first inning and let him off.
Carbondale established a 17-5 lead after one quarter Tuesday night against Belleville Althoff by running and pressing, turning over the Crusaders consistently and then cashing in for buckets.
Then the Terriers stopped running, couldn’t make shots, couldn’t stop turning the ball over and suddenly couldn’t get in front of dribblers.
And like Mighty Casey in the old fable, Carbondale eventually struck out.
Ripping off 15 straight points in a run bridging the halves, Althoff dealt the Terriers’ hopes of a South Seven title a crippling blow with a 53-44 decision.
“We just weren’t mentally focused and engaged with taking care of the basketball,” Carbondale coach Jim Miller said. “Give them credit, they’re a long and athletic team, but what hurt us is we took their punch in the second quarter and didn’t respond.”
In falling to 19-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference, the Terriers fell two games behind the Crusaders (13-11, 6-2) with two South Seven games left. A win would have tied them in the loss column and given them a tiebreaker advantage, thanks to a November victory over Althoff.
Instead, Carbondale wasn’t able to build on its fast start. After converting 7 of 10 shots in the first quarter and forcing five turnovers from an opponent that moved as though it were suffering from bus lag, the Terriers suddenly ground to a halt.
The Crusaders got physical defensively. Bodies started bouncing around the halfcourt. Carbondale’s patterns were completely disrupted. A double-figure lead was sliced to 22-19 at the half when Anthony Reed swished a corner 3.
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“The trip from Pinckneyville to here just beats you to death,” Althoff coach Greg Leib said. “It’s like wearing one of those old weight-loss machines with the belt that just shakes you. But the guys settled down and played really well the last three quarters.”
What his teammates started in the second quarter, Daulton Burgner took over in the third quarter. The 6-5 guard scored just one bucket in the first half, then started the third quarter with seven points in a 10-0 spurt. His steal and layup at the 4:56 mark gave the Crusaders a 29-22 lead.
The margin reached 10 later in the period before the Terriers finally found a little traction. Senior guard James Vaughn set up three straight buckets with slick feeds to get them within 37-31.
Althoff expanded the lead to nine again midway through the fourth quarter before Carbondale made its last push. Davaris Macklin’s 3-pointer pulled it within 44-39 with 3:08 left, and the Terriers had an opportunity to get within a possession.
But rebounding, the one thing Carbondale did consistently well, let it down. In a game where they earned a 32-20 advantage, the Terriers failed to check out Reed after he missed a runner in the lane. Reed scored on the second opportunity for a 46-39 lead at the 2:43 mark.
“Maybe it’s a different game if we get within one possession,” Miller said. “But tonight, we needed a lot of ifs to go our way. They made it tough for us to get good shots, and once they stopped our transition, it became more amplified.”
Burgner scored a game-high 13 for the Crusaders, who sank 10 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter to keep Carbondale at arm’s length. Althoff also committed just seven turnovers after the first quarter.
Macklin and Jakeba Burleigh each tallied 11 points for the Terriers, which made only 16 of 41 shots from the field and coughed up 21 turnovers.
“It was a frustrating final three quarters,” Miller said.