HERRIN – Family and friends were joking with Herrin’s Drew Ringel after Friday night’s game about his team managing just three first half field goals.
Coach Sayler Shurtz wasn’t joking at all when he discussed another stat that was far more disturbing: The Tigers’ four first half rebounds.
Herrin almost quadrupled that number in the second half, piecing together another of the rallies that has become its staple during a 17-1 stretch in its last 18 games. A 14-3 run over a four-minute stretch of the third quarter gave it control and kept it atop SIRR Ohio with a 53-47 win over Murphysboro in Memorial Gym.
“Coach lit us up on that one,” Ringel said. “All week long, we practiced rebounding drills. He stressed it a lot. That’s the reason we weren’t scoring. When we rebound, we get into transition and that’s when we start to flow.”
In upping their record to 19-4 overall and 6-0 in the conference, the Tigers sank 20 of 23 free throws and also hit 12 of 19 field goals in the second half. Their ability to end defensive possessions with a rebound, which allowed them to speed the tempo, was paramount to improved offensive efficiency.
By rebounding and then scoring, Herrin performed the hardest task for any high school team: Getting a well-drilled opponent to play faster than it prefers.
“They controlled the tempo on us,” Shurtz said of the Red Devils. “We watched them play Benton a couple of weeks ago and they did it to them, too, so we knew it was a possibility. It was probably one of the toughest first halves we’ve had all year.
“It is no secret – we like to get it and go. You have to get the ball first before you can start an offense, and I think rebounding better helped us start the offense.”
On paper, Murphysboro (17-8, 2-5) would seem like a team capable of playing at warp speed. Its players are sleek, quick and can score off the dribble. But the Red Devils have also been prone to turnover problems.
So coach Daryl Murphy has employed a slower pace, feeling his team’s best chance is to spread the court and limit possessions. It worked for nearly 2 ½ quarters as Jamarr McZeke and Calvon Clemons made a series of tough, winning plays that gave Murphysboro a 26-22 edge three minutes into the third quarter.
McZeke scored nine points, led all rebounders with seven and helped the Red Devils create extra possessions with offensive rebounds or steals. Clemons dished out four assists and also finished with 11 points, going 7 for 7 at the foul line.
But the Tigers made their game-changing push shortly after Clemons dissected their defense for a layup at the five-minute mark of the third. Hayden Holloway had the key bucket in the stretch, a 3-pointer with 1:37 left in the period that led to a six-point possession, thanks to a technical on the Murphysboro bench and two more free throws after the T shots.
Herrin nursed its slim lead from there, consistently getting into the lane for quality shots or calmly converting at the line. Jackson’s steal and pullup got the Red Devils within 47-44 at the 1:31 mark, but Luke LeQuatte found Ringel for a layup with 1:11 remaining to quash the rally.
“We’re trying to be the bullies of the conference this year, and we’re doing a good job of it so far,” Ringel said.
Ringel finished with a game-high 14 points, while Holloway added 12. LeQuatte scored 11, going 7 for 7 at the free throw stripe, and Tate Johnson hit for 10 points.
Guthman led Murphysboro, which shot 47.1 percent from the field but also committed 13 turnovers, with 12 points.