HERRIN — Through most of a stretch in which it’s won 19 of 20, Herrin’s boys basketball team has won close games because of its savvy and experience.
On Friday night, the Tigers didn’t need any sort of last-second heroics. They put together the kind of performance that makes a good team like Massac County look soft while taking a big step towards a long-sought SIRR Ohio championship.
Drew Ringel’s game-high 21 points and outstanding perimeter defense led Herrin to a 67-35 rout of the Patriots in Memorial Gym, keeping it undefeated in conference play and setting the stage for a potential outright clincher Saturday night against visiting West Frankfort.
If the Tigers win, they will wrap up their first conference title of any kind since 1972-73, when they were a member of the South Seven.
“It’s been a goal of ours since this summer,” Herrin coach Sayler Shurtz said. “It’s been 46 years since this community saw a Herrin team clinch a conference title outright. It would mean a lot.”
Brandon Anthony added 16 points for the Tigers (21-4, 7-0) and Luke LeQuatte scored 12, while Hayden Holloway chipped in eight points and seven assists in an outstanding floor game. Herrin canned 53.1 percent of its field goal attempts and collected a whopping 18 assists on 26 buckets.
In fact, the Tigers drew assists on their first nine baskets. Every starter had a helper before the game was six minutes old.
“That tells you the kids were unselfish tonight,” Shurtz said. “It’s what we’ve been preaching since this summer. These guys have a lot of talent, a lot of offensive ability, and when they share it like they did tonight, it’s pretty basketball to watch.”
Most opponents have hung in games with Herrin by trying to slow it down and keep it from getting its preferred fast pace. After LeQuatte and Anthony converted layups in the first 45 seconds, Massac County (15-10, 4-3) melted close to 90 minutes of clock on its next two possessions.
It did the Patriots no good. The Tigers scored the first six times they touched the ball, doing most of their damage in 3s. They canned three straight 3-pointers and LeQuatte capped the outburst with a 3-point play for a 16-2 lead at the 4:07 mark of the first quarter.
“When we are ready to play, we aren’t a bad basketball team,” Massac County coach Joe Hosman said. “I thought Herrin played a real good game. They are the best team in the conference and they sure played like it tonight.”
In addition to outstanding ball movement and good shooting, the Tigers hassled the Patriots’ ballhanders. They forced nine first half turnovers, playing passing lanes expertly and getting a number of deflections that fueled their transition game.
Hosman called an early timeout but didn’t use his other four, almost as though he sensed there weren’t enough timeouts for what Herrin unleashed. The margin went from 18-8 after a quarter to 27-10 in the middle of the second quarter to 39-15 at the half after Garrett Venegoni bombed in a 3-pointer as time expired.
The Tigers quickly upped the lead to 29 points early in the third quarter, flirting for nearly six minutes with the running clock before Ringel’s 3-point play in the first minute of the fourth quarter finally put the mercy rule into place.
For Hosman, the best thing about Friday night is that Massac County can put it in the trash can right away. The Patriots play at SIRR Ohio rival Benton Saturday night.
“They’re down,” he said of his players. “Herrin put it to us in every aspect of the game. We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and come back tomorrow night.”
Hayden Lee scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Massac County.