WEST FRANKFORT — For three quarters, West Frankfort’s boys nearly matched Herrin bucket for bucket in a slowly-paced game, giving themselves a chance to pull an upset.
And in one 30-second sequence to start the fourth quarter, the Redbirds lost that chance on two shots and a rebound they couldn’t corral.
Using a five-point possession to gain much-needed separation, the Tigers pulled away to earn a 54-40 SIRR Ohio decision Friday night at Max Morris Gym.
Leading 33-29 as the fourth quarter started, Herrin (9-3, 1-1) got a bucket from Jake Downen as he was fouled. Downen missed the free throw, but D.J. Spell grabbed the offensive rebound and Dalton Bush converted that into one of his four 3-pointers.
Just like that, a four-point lead more than doubled. West Frankfort (5-6, 0-3), which burned up to 63 seconds on the first possession of the third quarter and bled more than half a minute on others in the first half, had to speed up. The Tigers gradually pulled away, going up by 15 with 2:46 lead and upping the lead as high as 18 in the final minute.
“To our kids’ credit, they come down and work their tails off to get a good shot, maybe a stickback,” Redbirds coach Kevin Toney said. “And Herrin, which is a very talented team, can do whatever it wants and get a good shot, sometimes an open 3.
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“It’s disheartening sometimes for the kids, but they worked hard. We played great defense for 16 minutes in the first half, but they make it hard on you when they spread the floor and put a good 3-point shooter on each side.”
More importantly, the Tigers made shots after halftime they routinely missed in the first half. After starting the night 7-of-23, Herrin went 11-of-15 in the second half, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. Bush drilled all three of his trey tries.
Combine that with 16 points and 10 rebounds from Spell, plus a dozen points from Downen, and you get a team that was difficult to contain once the ball started going through the goal.
“We finally got rolling in the second half with our offense,” Tigers coach Mike Mooneyham said.
Herrin also rolled on the defensive end, not allowing a single double-figure scorer. Mooneyham praised senior guard Jacob Hartline for his work on West Frankfort senior guard Noah Allen, who squeezed off just eight shots from the field and scored only eight points.
Keagan Thrash paced the Redbirds with nine points. West Frankfort made only 39.5 percent of its field goal attempts.