MOUNT CARMEL — Mount Carmel ended 2017 with three straight losses at the Toyota Gibson County Teamwork Classic.
The Aces turned the page on 2017 and entered 2018 looking to get off on the right foot against a one-win Evansville Central team.
Mount Carmel led wire-to-wire as Austin Rager finished with a game-high 27 points in a 74-59 victory over the Bears in a high school boys basketball contest at the Hilltop.
"It feels good to be back on the winning side of things," said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss. "We definitely had a rough patch there at the Toyota Tournament, but we felt we got some things fixed here over the last three or four days. We were able to get back into the gym and not worry about even preparing for an opponent but worrying about ourselves and fixing some of the things we needed to fix."
Rager wasn't the only Ace in double figures. Brett Doan had the sure-hand from behind the 3-point line (especially in the first half) when he was 5-for-6 from behind the arc through the first 16 minutes of action.
Doan went on to connect on one more 3 in the second half and finished with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the floor.
"The guys did a good job tonight of coming out and playing well," said Buss. "Those two (Doan and Rager) did a nice job, Brett especially getting us off to a good start there. He really shot the ball well from the perimeter.
"Anytime you shoot well from the outside the pulls the defense out and that brings some openings for Austin to get to the basket and get some post up. I think that's one thing, he's making more of a conscious effort to do the inside dirty-work. He's so athletic and good around the basket that we need him down there and he did a good job of it tonight."
Mount Carmel opened with a 12-3 lead. Doan hit 3s on three straight possessions while Brayden Stipp added a 3 of his own to extend the Aces' lead to 15-6 before the Bears closed the opening quarter on a 6-0 run and trailed Mount Carmel, 15-12.
Rager took over in the second quarter and scored 10 of his 27 points in the quarter. Leading only by four (31-27) after Central's Colton Glaser hit a 3, the Aces closed the first half on an 8-1 run led by Rager and Doan.
Rager started the run with a basket inside. Doan added a 3 followed by Rager in the paint and a pair of free throws from the junior to give Mount Carmel a 40-28 lead at the break.
The Aces opened an 18-point lead at the end of the third quarter (61-43) and withstood pressure from the Bears in the fourth quarter as the Aces improved to 7-7 on the season. Stipp added 15 in the victory. Keon Jones led the Bears with 21 points.
Next up for the Aces is a road trip to Eldorado. The Eagles are coming off a victory over Harrisburg in the championship of their own holiday tournament in front of a capacity crowd of more than 4,000 fans. The championship was the second in a row for Eldorado.
The Eagles were in the same sectional as the Aces last year and could be there again if both teams advance past the regional.
"It's a huge game," said Buss. "Eldorado is undefeated. They made it to the sectional last year so it will be, I'm sure, a huge crowd for them. They've been packing their gym and it's a beautiful place to play. Our guys are excited to get down there and go and try and knock off the Eagles."