CARBONDALE — Sesser-Valier fought a valiant fight Tuesday night at the Class 1A SIU Super-Sectional, but no kind of fight was going to be enough to overcome a tall, talented and quick Moweaqua Central A&M team.
Especially when the Red Devils started the third quarter with the kind of drought that usually gets a team beat in March.
Going the first 5:04 of the period without a field goal, S-V saw its deficit grow from a manageable 33-28 to a dangerous 41-28. That was basically the game, as the Raiders nudged the margin to 18 points before holding off the Red Devils for a 79-69 win.
While Central A&M (32-3), which hasn’t lost to a 1A team all year, advances to the semifinals Friday morning in Peoria, Sesser-Valier finishes its season at 26-7.
“We gave it what we got, but sometimes, a team is just better than you,” Red Devils coach Shane Garner said. “And tonight was one of those nights.”
When experts advocate for height over small-ball in basketball, they can point at the Raiders. They trotted out a starting lineup with four players standing between 6-4 and 6-6, which is four more than Sesser-Valier offers on its roster. The tallest Red Devil starter was 6-3 Seth Boles.
The early signs were promising in one sense for S-V, but also hinted at how difficult a matchup it had. With 20 ppg scorer Tyler Winchester scoring 11 of his 23 points in the first half and Boles, who’s been a star in the postseason, adding eight, the Red Devils went toe to toe with Central A&M.
However, Sesser-Valier was working harder for its points than the Raiders. Oftentimes, the Red Devils had to start their offense about 35 or 40 feet from the basket because of A&M’s length.
“That’s just a tough team to play,” Boles said. “It’s hard to work the ball around the outside because of their size. We’ve not seen a team that big all year. They ran the floor well, and they were physical.”
All those qualities finally caved in on S-V at the third quarter’s beginning. Its first seven possessions went turnover, turnover, miss, miss, miss, missed 3, missed 3. Meanwhile, the Raiders whipped it in transition for three layups and a short bank shot to up the lead to 13 points.
The margin grew to 49-31 later in the period as the Red Devils couldn’t burn a box-and-one. Six-five Austin Sloan blanketed Winchester, who squeezed off just one field goal attempt in the quarter. Unlike most games down the stretch where S-V has been able to make teams pay for the extra attention on its star, it wasn’t able to do it until it was too late.
“They took me out of the picture,” Winchester said, “and when you take one of your best players out of the picture, it’s hard to score.”
To the Red Devils’ credit, they kept working the game, even when they trailed 71-55 with 2:03 left. With Central A&M missing a spate of free throws in a marathon last two minutes, S-V actually had a chance to pull within two possessions when Peyton Bates lined up a clean look at a 3-ball with about 25 seconds left.
But that shot missed. Another shot by Winchester missed, and although Boles’ stickback cut it to 76-69, there were only 13.9 seconds remaining. Time had run out on a memorable season for the Red Devils.
Although they couldn’t duplicate the 2014 team’s achievement of reaching the state semifinals, they were appreciative of following their footsteps all the way to SIU Arena.
“It’s a dream you have as a little kid,” said Winchester. “You dream of playing at SIU, and when you see the 2014 team play here, you think it’s the coolest thing ever. And we got to do it.”
Boles finished with 15 points for S-V and Garrett Gunter chipped in 13. Jacob Paradee led four Raiders in double figures with a game-high 26 points, while Connor Heaton scored 21, Brycen Burgener 14 and Griffin Andricks 13.