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CARBONDALE — Despite a less-than-stellar offensive showing, Carbondale cleaned up on the boards and excelled defensively to beat reigning South Seven leader Mount Vernon, 40-28, on Friday night. 

“I’m happy for the effort our kids put forth tonight at the defensive end and on the boards,” said Carbondale coach Jim Miller. “Our game plan was to keep pressure on them on both ends of the floor, and it was phenomenal to watch the intensity our kids played with tonight. Our kids were locked in, engaged and focused.”

Mount Vernon (14-8, 4-2 South Seven) came into the game with a half game lead over Belleville Althoff (11-11, 4-2) and Centralia (9-12, 4-2) and a game and a half lead over Carbondale, but finished the first half without a basket from the field, thanks to a strong Terriers defense. The Rams finished the night with a .267 shooting percentage (8-of-30), including 4-of-16 from beyond the arc.

Though Carbondale (19-4, 4-3 South Seven) actually had a worse shooting night, making just 10-of-38 overall (.263) and 3-of-16 from the arc, they held a large margin on the defensive boards to hold the Rams to just one shot per possession to ultimately emerge victorious. 

The Terriers defense forced 18 Rams turnovers. Contributing to this effort, Fairleigh Ward had three steals and Austin Reliford two. Jakeba Burleigh led the Terriers with 11 points with Ward adding 10 and Davaris Macklin eight. Macklin had a good night on the boards as well, finishing with 11 rebounds.

The first half was an offensive struggle for both teams, but especially for Mount Vernon. The Rams were shutout in the first quarter after missing all six of their shots from the field, including 0-4 from beyond the arc.

The Terriers shot just 20 percent from the field, making just 2-of-10 overall and 0-for-5 from 3-point land in the first quarter. Ward got the Terriers on the board at the 1:30 mark when he drew a foul and split his two free throw shots.

Ward upped the lead to 3-0 on a layup 2:16 later, and Burleigh made it 4-0 with 3:28 remaining in the quarter after sinking one of two free throws. Burleigh further chalked up an assist and a steal, stripping the ball and dishing it back to Ward to make it 6-0 with 2:09 left.

Burleigh opened the second quarter by making two foul shots at the 2:15 mark and Macklin upped the lead to 10-0 on a pull-up jumper from the left corner 26 seconds later.

Mount Vernon finally managed to get on the board with 4:14 remaining in the half on a pair of Amir Spann free throws. Spann led the Rams with 11 points before exiting the game with 2:16 left due to a knee injury.

Burleigh got those points back on a layup, but Jackson Creel drew a foul and split his free throws to cut the lead back to nine. Reliford swished a 3-pointer and followed by splitting a pair of free throws to give the Terriers a 16-3 lead at the half.

The Rams came out of the locker room seemingly remotivated, holding the Terriers to just three points in the third quarter while finally finding some range, hitting 3-of-5 shots, including a 3-pointer by Creel to cut the lead to 19-13 heading into the fourth quarter.

“We obviously couldn’t throw it in the ocean that first half, so we just had to get it out of our heads,” said Mount Vernon assistant coach Lance Bolt. “I was very proud of the boys on how they responded after halftime coming out as a much different team. But it was just unfortunate – you prepare and run some stuff – I will give Carbondale a lot of credit they didn’t let us get to the basket very easily and they squared us up defensively.”

Quani Rudd opened the fourth quarter with a basket to cut the lead to four at the 13 second mark, but Reliford sank a 3-pointer from the right side to start an 8-0 run to extend the lead to 12 points with 5:09 remaining.

Mount Vernon cut the lead to eight on 3-pointers by Creel and Spann and another jumper by Spann with 3:25 remaining, but the Terriers went to the line eight times in the last 2:09. After missing the front ends of two chances from the line, Carbondale came back to make 9-of-12 foul shots, with Burleigh going 4-of-4 and Ward 3-of-4, to seal the victory.

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