MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. -- Entering the new year with considerable momentum, Mount Carmel dropped their first game of 2019 with a tough loss against Evansville Central at home on Wednesday. After the loss Mount Carmel head coach Tyler Buss was quite animated and challenged his team -- they responded in a big way.
The Aces, led by Bret Doan's 17 points, came out strong and defeated a gritty Effingham-St. Anthony team, 57-51 on Friday night at Mount Carmel High School.
"I'm so proud of those guys, they absolutely responded after Wednesday night," coach Buss spoke of challenging his group following their 56-48 loss to Evansville Central. "I don't know if you guys know this, I can be a little energetic in the locker room after games, that was as animated as I've been. Like I told Kyle before the game, we were very honest with our boys of what we expect of them. They gave an absolute effort on the defensive end, both ways, rebounding, doing the tough things we hadn't been doing and you just saw the result."
Early on it appeared it would be all Mount Carmel (5-9). They came out clicking on all cylinders -- Doan scored five early points to lead the Aces to a 10-3 lead, but St. Anthony (10-6) started to show a level of chippiness that would make it a highly contested game for much of the night. The Bulldogs closed the deficit to 12-9, but Doan responded with a nice floater at the buzzer in the first quarter to extend the lead to 14-9.
Foul trouble started to become an issue for the Aces in the second quarter, with Kaleb Applebey picking up his second foul within the first minute of the second quarter. The Aces pushed the Bulldogs to the brink again, extending the lead to 22-13, but Austin Rager picked up his second foul on a charge call with three minutes remaining in the quarter.
St. Anthony closed the deficit to 22-20 with under a minute remaining in the half, prompting Mount Carmel to hold the ball for the last possession of the half. That possession turned into a contested fadeaway three-pointer by Austin Rager, which the Aces senior missed, but Applebey remained active on the glass and out-hustled some Bulldogs for the offensive rebound and putback as time expired in the half. Coach Buss gambled with putting the pair back in despite foul trouble -- it paid off.
Applebey continued his high energy in the third quarter, scoring nine points in the quarter, several nice finishes through contact and an emphatic block. St. Anthony struggled to contain the sophomore center on post-ups and Mount Carmel continued to attack it time and time again. His strong play helped extend the Aces lead to 41-33 at the end of the quarter. The lead would reach double digits on a couple occasions, but St. Anthony just refused to go away -- a theme that would continue in the fourth.
Doan hit a three to inflate the lead to 12 early in the fourth, which felt like a dagger to the Bulldogs. Impressively, St. Anthony turned up their defensive intensity, causing some nightmares for Aces point guard Beau Stipp. Their aggressive ball pressure and trapping led to an ugly five minute stretch for Mount Carmel.
With their intensity amped up, St. Anthony reduced the deficit to just three, 50-47, with under two minutes remaining. With the crowd now into the close, nailbiter of a game, the Bulldogs' fullcourt press had a breakdown, allowing Doan to go coast to coast for a layup, extending the lead to five and dealing a major gash to the Bulldogs hopes of a comeback. Mount Carmel coolly knocked down some late free throws to escape with a 57-51 win in an impressive victory.
Coach Buss loved how engaged the fans and students were, especially in the fourth quarter. He hopes they can continue that enthusiasm for his team going forward -- an advantageous home court could be a huge benefit for a team that's continuing in the right direction as the season winds down and heading into regionals (at Mount Carmel).
"Great crowd tonight," coach Buss said. "This is what we need at the Hilltop going forward, we have a bunch of home games coming up, including that regional. Awesome job fans and let's keep it rolling."
Doan was the star of the night, scoring 17 points to lead the Aces, followed by Applebey tallying 13 points, Rager with 11 points and Stipp adding 11 points, nine of which coming on 11 free throw attempts for the sophomore guard. Doan's performance was impressive due to his activity level, which coach Buss challenged his senior guard on. Mixing it with his potent shot, which he was knocking down on some pullups, it can make for a challenging matchup for opponents.
"His is all about his energy level," coach Buss said. "We challenge Bret, I told him if he didn't get five rebounds he wasn't starting tomorrow. He needs to be more active in other areas. The shot's going to come, he hasn't shot it like he wants to, but it's always going to be there. He did some nice things taking it to the basket, he was just super engaged tonight. I'm super proud of Bret because a lot of guys when they get coached hard, especially this day in age, can go into a shell and blame everything else. He responded and that's exactly what we need out of Bret."
The victory over a quality St. Anthony team could go a long way for Mount Carmel. Coach Buss feels this game could propel them heading into a grueling January stretch and it likely could.
"This is huge. I think after that tournament they're up to nine or ten wins, that's a good, quality ball club. They play hard, man do they play hard. It was physical, there were a lot of fouls called and there probably could have been a lot more fouls called. That's a postseason type of game we played tonight, we found a way to win. We told our guys, this should be a spring board going forward."
His team will continue their tough stretch into a home matchup against Eldorado at Mount Carmel High School on Saturday (Jan. 5), starting at 2 p.m. The quick, next day turnaround will likely see some Aces with tired legs and against another high quality opponent. The Eagles enter the game with a 13-2 record -- a win over another quality team could polevault their confidence even further and spearhead their success down the stretch.
"This team has got everything in front of us. We're 5-9, but this is a team that can do some big things going forward and we just have to continue to keep working and give consistent effort."