WEST FRANKFORT — To start the season, West Frankfort upset Pinckneyville, which has won 16 of its last 17 games.
On Tuesday night, Redbirds coach Evan Wyllie said his team played their best game of the year.
If they beat the Panthers without their best, most detailed effort, it stands to reason that Murphysboro didn’t have much of a chance in Max Morris Gym.
Draining nine 3-pointers and also hurting the Red Devils inside with dribble penetration or postups, West Frankfort led wire-to-wire and cruised to a 73-52 SIRR Ohio victory.
Josh Melvin led the balanced Redbirds with 17 points on 10 shot attempts and also grabbed seven rebounds. Bryson Dorris came off the bench to net 14 points and CJ Johnson chipped in 13 points and six rebounds.
West Frankfort (10-6, 2-2) sank 50 percent from the field, 50 percent on 3-pointers and canned 14-of-18 foul shots. It committed just eight turnovers and won the rebounding battle 31-24.
“It always helps when the ball goes in the hoop, but the big thing is that we were locked in from the start defensively,” Wyllie said. “We were really worried about some of the sets Murphysboro runs, and we emphasized that we had to communicate. Other than a couple of mental lapses, we were there.”
Each team’s first possession set the tone. Melvin shot a layup off a Cole Levanti feed, followed by one of three turnovers in the Red Devils’ first six possessions.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Dorris capped a game-opening 11-0 run and forced Red Devils coach Daryl Murphy to burn a 30-second timeout 4:24 into the contest.
“I thought we were flat, a little sluggish, and they were inspired to play a little basketball,” Murphy said. “They put it right to us. No other way to describe it.”
The final margin aside, there was a portion of the first half in which it appeared Murphysboro (10-6, 1-2) might give the Redbirds a 32-minute tussle. JaQuan Jackson and Corbin Guthman each hit a pair of 3-pointers as the Red Devils closed the gap to 21-19 and then 26-24.
At that point came what Murphy called the game’s key play. Dorris rebounded a missed shot off the floor, dribbled out to the right corner and drained a 3-ball. Instead of having a chance to tie or take the lead, the Red Devils trailed by five.
“If we get that rebound and tie it or bury a 3, who knows? But that’s just kind of the way we played,” Murphy said. “I just kind of question our mental toughness as basketball players. We won a couple of games in a row and we looked like we walked out here tonight and wanted to blow one out.
“It’s hard to tell sometimes. They’re kids and that type of game is going to happen.”
It happened real quick at the start of the second half. Johnson got off the mark quickly with a 3-pointer and then a driving layup. Paxton Griffith checked in off the bench with a 3-pointer to finish a 14-3 run that made it 48-29 with 3:58 left.
That had the finality of a QED at the end of an algebraic proof.
“Everybody was making shots tonight,” Wyllie said. “We even connected at the free throw line, which we’ve struggled with, so it was a good team win for us. Everybody was doing their job.”
Guthman tallied 17 points for Murphysboro, 11 in the fourth quarter. Dezmond Clark hit for 12 and Jackson finished with 11 points.
The Red Devils made just 6-of-21 3-point attempts and got very little going around the basket. They took just six free throws, hitting them all.