Players come and go. Every once in a while, the coaches change, too.
But one thing’s been a certainty for Nashville basketball over the last 30 years. You’re going to have to make a commitment to defense or there’s a good chance you’ll be sitting on the bench, watching your teammates win games.
And that emphasis on defense has only strengthened under second-year coach Wayne Harre, helping the Hornets go 33-2 and get to Tuesday night’s Class 2A Super-Sectional at SIU Arena against Teutopolis as the top-ranked 2A team in the state.
“That’s his main thing,” senior guard Kelton Harre said Friday night after a 37-22 sectional championship win over Alton Marquette. “That’s the thing we work on most in practice. He takes pride in it, so we have to as well.”
How good has Nashville been on defense this year? In 35 games, only one team has managed to top 50 points. Du Quoin scored 52 on Jan. 11, and still lost by 15. Since that night, no one has even crossed the 40-point barrier.
In 29 of their 35 games, including the last 15, the Hornets have yielded less than 40 points. And it’s not a byproduct of a deliberate offense that works the ball around the perimeter for a minute at a time, although Nashville can play that way if required.
Instead, it’s because its defense makes every game into a referendum on its opponents’ will. Can they display the patience to work around the Hornets’ length and find good shots? Or do they break down when every pass and shot is well-contested, and simply start hoisting bad shots because they’re tired of fighting for the better ones?
“They just move so well, and if your spacing isn’t good, they make you easy to guard,” said West Frankfort coach Evan Wyllie, whose team fell to Nashville 54-31 Wednesday night in a sectional semifinal. “There’s no driving lanes, they recover, they jump to the ball so quickly and they rebound the heck out of the ball.”
Teutopolis (29-5) has already found out about the Hornets the hard way. On Feb. 2, the Wooden Shoes played them to a 24-24 halftime tie at the Rich Herrin Shootout in Benton. Then Nashville held them to two third quarter points and pulled away for a 57-39 win.
The winner plays either Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley or Pleasant Plains on Friday night in Peoria at 7:15.
Sesser-Valier coach Shane Garner isn’t into exotic schemes, not even against a high-powered opponent like Moweaqua Central A&M, who the Red Devils face at 6 p.m. Tuesday night for a berth in the state semifinals.
“We believe in our culture and doing what we do,” Garner said Monday before practice. “We’re going to be simple and disciplined. We’re going to be us, and be the best us we can be.”
Sesser-Valier (26-6) fit that description to a T during Friday night’s 55-39 drilling of a good Woodlawn team in the Gallatin County Sectional championship game. Seth Boles drained three big first half 3-pointers and finished with 23 points, while Eli Gunter played lockdown defense on Cardinals star Blake McKay, holding him to 11 points.
Garner said Boles’ outburst from long distance infused the Red Devils with an extra hit of energy.
“We condition our boys hard,” Garner said, “but if you’re in a good state mentally, you can go to even higher levels. When those shots went in, we played even harder. Our kids were so into the game on the bench that I had to tell them to get off the floor a couple of times.”
Sesser-Valier faces a bigger challenge against the 31-3 Raiders, who rely on a three-man nucleus of Connor Heaton (19.8 ppg), Griffin Andricks (16.7) and Jacob Paradee (13.9). Central A&M hasn’t lost to a 1A team all year and has won 20 consecutive games.
Garner said transition defense and decision-making will be the keys.
“They love transition,” he said of the Raiders. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of the ball and that we make them hit shots over us.”
The winner will advance to Peoria for an 11 a.m. game Friday against either Cissna Park or Yorkville Christian.