MCLEANSBORO — A 10-second burst late in the fourth quarter lifted Carterville to a 56-49 win over Carmi in the Hamilton County Class 2A regional.
The Lions’ quest for a third straight regional title was in jeopardy with less than three minutes to play. Carterville trailed 45-39 and Carmi seemed to have all the momentum.
Austin Swalls narrowed the gap to 45-42 with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:34 remaining. Swalls, who finished the game with 18 points, picked off Carmi’s inbounds pass and rifled a pass to Brendan Beasley at the top of the key.
Beasley stepped into the open 3-pointer, tying the game at 45 with 2:24 to play. Swalls’ trey halted the Carmi momentum. Beasley’s turned the tide in Carterville’s favor.
“That was huge,” said Carterville coach David Brown. “Brendan Beasley can hit big shots and so can Austin. I kind of felt like they did a good job of taking us out of our game. We kept attacking. We kept fighting until the end.”
“That was big,” said Carmi coach Kevin Wolff. “I told our kids, ‘They made plays.’ Those were big-time plays. In a regional championship game a lot of times it comes down to just a few big plays. Their kids made them.”
But, there was still work to do for Carterville.
After Beasley tied the game, Carmi’s Justice Stubblefield misfired on a one-and-one attempt.
Carterville took advantage, taking the lead on Justin Parson-Nalley’s offensive rebound. Parson-Nalley scored eight points, all in the second half.
“Parson-Nalley, he came in and he was the savior,” Brown said. “He rebounded, not just the baskets, he rebounded and got them in foul trouble.”
Carmi answered with a quick transition bucket by Matt Rice, but Carterville regained control of the game on a five-point run. Swalls’ free throw gave the Lions a one-point edge, but Taylor Heil’s conventional three-point play made it a two-possession game with just 44 seconds left.
Carterville nailed down the win, hitting five of six free throws in the final 35 seconds.
The Lions picked up their 21st win despite a Carmi defense that held them without a field goal for a 10-minute period that spanned the second and third quarters.
“We’ve talked about guarding all year long,” Wolff said. “That’s what we focused on. We feel if you can guard, you’ll be in every ball game you ever play. We focus on it every day. We want to give a shot one shot and no more. These kids bought into our system. It’s not really a system, it’s just playing defense.”
Swalls finished with 18 points while Beasley had 17. Heil chipped in 10.
Tucker Gray scored 18 for Carmi. Zach Vaught had 15 and Tyler Barbre 14.
Carterville advances to the Flora Sectional where it will face Lawrenceville at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Lawrenceville defeated Robinson 65-51 in the Casey-Westfield Regional.