HERRIN — They turned it over 18 times Friday night and let Marion’s physical play bother them occasionally.
But when Herrin needed to come up with the right answer, whether it was with a bucket, a hustle play or a defensive stop, it did so. And that, according to second-year coach Sayler Shurtz, is the difference between the Tigers of last year and this year.
“Last year, in a game that was close, we’d have our daubers down,” Shurtz said after Herrin pulled out a 60-54 win in the Pyramid Plus Tournament at Memorial Gym. “We were just hoping to win. Tonight, in that huddle, I knew we were going to win that game. And there was no second-guessing.”
Drew Ringel scored 17 points for the Tigers (2-1), which won their second straight game after a Monday night upset loss to Carterville. Brandon Anthony added 12 and Hayden Holloway pitched in 10 points despite foul trouble.
Herrin led almost the entire game and pushed the margin to 41-29 on a transition layup by Garrett Venegoni with 5:18 left in the third quarter that capped a 9-2 run. But the Wildcats (0-3) responded with a 12-4 spurt, fronted by six points from 6-5 junior Jackson Connor, including a driving layup that made it 45-41 going to the fourth quarter.
That, if nothing else, gave the Tigers a chance to demonstrate that they are capable of closing out a tight game. The sequence which gave them a boost came as the result of a play in which they appeared to outhustle Marion.
Off a missed 3-pointer by Venegoni, two Wildcats waited for the rebound. Luke LeQuatte opted not to wait. He tracked it down and pitched it back to Ringel for a 3-ball from the top of the key that upped the lead to seven.
“Those are momentum,” Shurtz said. “Those effort plays really spike up what we’re going offensively and defensively, and they really get our team into the game. The crowd, the bench and everyone is into it.”
Holloway, who picked up his fourth foul 32 seconds into the third quarter and sat out nearly nine minutes, checked back in with a short jumper and then a 3-pointer that gave Herrin a 53-44 advantage. The Tigers didn’t always wrap it up in textbook fashion, but stayed ahead by at least two possessions for the game’s remainder.
Herrin converted 58.1 percent of its field goal tries, including 6-of-14 from the 3-point line, and was a solid 18-of-26 at the foul line.
“We fouled way too much in the first half and we talked about it at halftime,” said Marion coach Gus Gillespie of his team’s defense. “Then we didn’t move our feet defensively in the second half because we were afraid of fouling.
“But you have to give credit to Herrin. They made their shots and they deserved to win.”
The teams combined for 27 fouls and 28 free throws in a lengthy first half. The Wildcats averaged a foul a minute, dipping into their bench to use 10 players. For a team breaking in four new starters a year after an appearance in the Class 3A Super-Sectional, the constant churn wasn’t ideal.
Yet freshman Rayzhaun Bardo identified himself as a player to watch. In a reserve role, Bardo tallied a game-high 18 points on just nine shot attempts, canning three 3-pointers and mixing in some bold drives.
“I thought he had the presence of an upperclassman in just his third game,” Gillespie said.
In Friday’s first game, Carterville bolted to a 24-7 first quarter lead and rolled to a 57-34 win over Meridian. The Lions (2-1) are now a win shy of matching last year’s total. Collinsville routed Mount Vernon 63-32 in a matchup of the tourney’s unbeaten teams.
The tourney concludes today with two sessions. Collinsville can win it for the second time in four years with victories over Meridian and Herrin. There could also be a three-way tie should the Kahoks lose once while either Carterville, Herrin or Mount Vernon win twice.