DU QUOIN — Cairo coach Larry Wood wanted to put fate into his own hands.
His Pilots played Carmi’s style and tempo in the first half – and survived. Cairo led 25-21 at intermission. However, that wasn’t the game he and his Pilots wanted to play.
Cairo pressed from the first possession of the second half. The full-court pressure not only created turnovers but pushed the Pilots into high gear. The Pilots outscored Carmi 22-9 in the third quarter and earned a 57-41 win in the Du Quoin Tip-off Basketball Tournament.
Cairo’s Alton Hervey, who had five buckets on offensive rebounds in the first half, opened the third quarter squaring with a rebound bucket. That allowed the Pilots to set up their press and they went to work.
Carmi turned the ball over on their first two possessions of the second half and the Pilots cashed in. A steal led to Isaiah Brown dropping in a 15-footer. Still another Carmi turnover led to Daurice Morris scoring from close range.
The Bulldogs had just four first-half turnovers, but coughed the ball up twice in the first minute of the third quarter, turning a four-point lead into a 10-point Cairo advantage. That’s exactly what Wood had in mind.
“We kind of wanted to control the tempo,” he said. “That’s the way we thought we could do that. That’s what we wanted to do, create a little distance where it would be difficult for them to come back.”
Cairo’s Riko Nelson finished the third quarter scoring with five straight points, giving the Pilots their biggest advantage of the game at 47-30.
“It’s (the press) not anything we didn’t prepare for,” said Carmi coach Kevin Wolff. “We just made a few too many mistakes. Whenever they went to that zone press, we had guys open, but just got a little sloppy with the basketball. We wanted to keep the game in the 40s and the 50s. We thought we’d have a chance, but we just made too mistakes at crucial times.”
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Although the Pilots didn’t play the pace they wanted in the first half, they were efficient nonetheless, turning the ball over just once.
“We’re kind of a veteran club now so we should be able to take care of the ball,” Wood said. “Terrell (Jones), our main point guard, he’s our leader, our floor general. He knows when to press it and when to take it back, so that helps a lot.”
While Cairo didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the first half, Carmi had no answer for Hervey’s board work. Sixteen of his game-high 21 points came in the first half.
“He has a good pair hands,” Wood said of the 6-foot-6 junior. “Sometimes we tease him, he’ll miss the first shot. I guess he’s trying to get his rebound average up.”
“We knew he was a load inside,” Wolff said. “We did too much. We would go to our guy, but then stand. With him, you’ve got to try to get him out of there. He’s a load inside. He’s going to do that all year long. We were trying, but just didn’t get it done.”
In addition to Hervey’s 21 points, the 3-1 Pilots got 14 from Morse. Peyton Edwards, a 6-6 junior, led Carmi with 15.
In the nightcap, the host Indians used a big second half to defeat Red Bud 61-46.
The game was tied at 24 at intermission, but Du Quoin turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, using Red Bud turnovers to build a 44-34 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
Braeden Pursell led Du Quoin with 25 points, 16 in the second half. Brian Winters added nine.
Carter Wiegard scored 21 to lead Red Bud and Max Diewald had 11.
Cairo plays Massac County and Red Bud today while Carmi plays Red Bud. The other game pits Du Quoin against Massac County.
On Twitter: @LesWinkeler