CHESTER — Conventional wisdom says a basketball team can’t win a game in the first quarter.
Friday’s Class 2A regional championship match between West Frankfort and Chester seems to have defied wisdom. West Frankfort advances to the Du Quoin Sectional.
West Frankfort used a suffocating defense to roll to an 11-4 first quarter lead and the Redbirds went on to take a 54-38 win. The Redbirds forced eight first quarter turnovers and didn’t allow a field goal until Ian Reith hit a buzzer-beating trey.
Chester’s high scoring Keith Kiner, who finished with a game high 22 points didn’t score in the first quarter and had just six points at the half.
“I felt like we had a pretty good scout,” said West Frankfort coach Evan Wyllie. “We knew what he could do from an athletic standpoint. Anytime you only give up 39 points I think you did a pretty good job defensively. We only gave up one until that last three in the first quarter.”
C.J. Johnson was largely responsible for keeping Kiner in check.
“C.J. wanted the matchup,” Wyllie said. “Those guys are AAU teammates. Kudos to our guys. We knew it would take a solid defensive effort to win and that’s what we got.”
West Frankfort got some serious separation in the second quarter, outscoring the Yellow Jackets 15-8. After Chester closed to 13-10 on a Kiner grey at the 4:23 mark, the Redbirds finished the half on a 13-2 run.
West Frankfort junior Josh Melvin, who scored eight of his 14 points in the first half, got two key buckets in the final 1:23. He dumped in an offensive rebound and closed the half with a strong driving layup.
“When he’s good, we’re good,” Wyllie said. “Anytime he is going to the glass and we’re getting him touches, it’s nice for us. He had a really nice game.”
Chester never cut the lead to less than 10 points in the second half.
“I can’t say more about our team,” Wyllie said. “They’ve worked so hard. It’s the first regional championship in 12 years, so, it’s really exciting.”
Johnson led the 21-10 Redbirds with 20 points. Melvin was the only other West Frankfort player to reach double figures.
Kiner led Chester with 20 while Ian Reith had 10.