CHRISTOPHER — Thompsonville pressed Christopher from the tip-off stealing the ball twice on in-bounds passes to take an 11-0 lead and never looked back to beat the defending champion Bearcats 53-33, and win its first title at the 44th annual Christopher boys basketball Turkey Tournament on Saturday.
“We hadn’t pressed at the beginning of games yet, so we knew we had to set the tone from the beginning not only for our opponent, but for ourselves and it really worked for our favor,” said Thompsonville coach Pete Gordon. “The press was effective and we were able to get some easy baskets.”
The Tigers forced the Bearcats into 10 turnovers, with two coming in the first five minutes, to give Thompsonville a big lead that was never really threatened.
The Tigers finished with four players in double digit scoring. Tournament MVP senior guard Tyson Kessler finished with 12 points, junior guard Corbin Fitch also scored 12 and sophomore forward Grady Furlow finished with 10.
“This was the first time I’ve been named MVP of a tournament, so I’m pretty excited,” Kessler said. “The guys were nervous about winning, so we just came out and gave it all we had. We were a little slow on offense, but we played great defense tonight. Defense is where it’s at with us. We’re going to press everybody and get up in them and that’s how we’re going to get wins.”
All-Tournament center Anthony Darge barely missed a triple-triple finishing with a game-high 14 points, 10 blocked shots and nine rebounds, including eight on the defensive end. The senior was also perfect at the line going 6-for-6.
“I tried to do everything I could,” Darge said. “The last two games I didn’t think I did too good, so I stepped it up for this game.”
Darge opened the game with a layup 20 seconds in and 13 seconds later Peyton Roberts sank his only basket of the game – a shot from beyond the arc on the right side to up the lead to 5-0.
On the in-bounds pass, Fitch stole the ball and scored and on the following in-bounds pass, Darge got the ball and scored. A minute later, Darge scored again at the 4:52 mark to give the Tigers an 11-0 lead.
“They came out of the gate with a lot of energy because they’re a pretty good ballclub and that’s what we’ve been the last few years,” said Christopher coach Eric Stallman. “They got after us real early and we struggled with the turnovers. We’ve been very fortunate the last few years no one has pressed us because we could handle it. We showed tonight we’re a little susceptible to it this year. But we’ll learn from this and get better as the year progressed.”
Christopher (2-1) finally got on the board 18 seconds later when Bryce Pratt was fouled and made his first free throw, but missed his second. The Bearcats broke the press with Pratt scoring on an easy layup and 28 seconds later Dalton Saeger scored on a backdoor layup to cut the lead to six with 2:54 remaining in the quarter.
However, that would be as close as the Bearcats would get, as the Kessler drained a 3-pointer to close out the quarter and the Tigers opened the second with two free throws by Darge, another steal and a layup by Fitch and a steal by Furlow with a pass to Fitch for the easy score to take a 15-point lead with 6:18 remaining before the half.
The Bearcats would cut the lead back to nine twice before the half with the last being with 1:32 remaining, but Kessler converted a foul into a point and hit a pull-up jumper with 19 seconds remaining to take a 14-point lead into halftime.
Thompsonville (3-0) extended its lead to 17 points on the first of three 3-pointers by Furlow, who was making his first varsity start for the Tigers, in the first three minutes of the third quarter. The Bearcats closed it to 11 with 2:04 remaining, but Furlow sank his other two in the last 1:05 of the third quarter to extend the lead back to 17 heading into the fourth quarter.
Joining Kessler and Darge on the All-Tournament Team were Pratt, Gage Hawkins from Christopher, Travis Dickey and Taj McKinney from third place Wayne City, Brandon Skaggs from fourth place NCOE, Joe Range from consolation champion New Athens, McKendal Malone from sixth place Waltonville and Kaiden Taylor from seventh place Webber Township.
In the other games on championship Saturday, Webber Township beat Zeigler-Royalton, 64-42, in the seventh place game, New Athens beat Waltonville in the consolation championship game and Wayne City beat NCOE, 68-59, in the third place game.