MOUNT CARMEL -- No Applebey, no problem.
Entering Tuesday's game against Evansville Memorial, Mount Carmel Coach Tyler Buss found himself in a peculiar situation. His team was without one of its two go to guys, junior Kaleb Applebey. Not that his team hasn't been without Applebey for stretches, but to be without his dominant 6-foot-7 presence in the paint for an entire game, that's certainly not something you desire.
With Applebey sidelined Buss relayed a resounding message to his other star junior, Beau Stipp. We go as you go tonight.
"We told him before the game with Kaleb out, he couldn't take a bad shot in my eyes," Buss said. "We wanted the ball in his hands a bunch, we wanted him forcing the issue."
And lead Stipp did.
Stipp scored a game-high 28 points to help his Aces stave off Evansville Memorial in Mount Carmel's 55-51 victory over the Tigers on Monday night at the Hilltop in Mount Carmel.
It seemed as if Mount Carmel (11-4) had the game in hand, boasting a 47-37 lead with 2:50 remaining in the contest and a technical having just been assessed to a Tiger after a loose ball scuffle.
Impressively the Tigers (1-6) responded with an amped up defensive intensity, applying immense pressure in the full court and frequent trapping in the half court.
They forced a number of turnovers and converted quickly in transition, allowing them to quickly reduce the deficit all the way down to within three in the final minute.
Despite his scoring outburst, arguably Stipp's best play of the night came on the defensive side the ball in the waning seconds.
With Mount Carmel ahead 53-49 and 12 seconds remaining, Memorial's Cade Graham went coast to coast following a Stipp free throw miss and laid it in off glass -- but Stipp rotated over defensively and drew a charge on Graham, forcing the Tiger senior to foul out and preventing what could have been a major momentum shift had the call went the other way.
"I thought it was a fitting way to end the game, Beau Stipp sliding in there to take a charge," Buss said. "We had been pleading all game, someone please get in there and take a charge. He waited until like four seconds left or whatever it was to do it. That was a huge play because if that's an and-one that swings the game the complete other way."
Stipp calmly nailed a pair of free throws on the ensuing trip to the charity stripe to ice the game and give Mount Carmel a 55-51 victory.
Other than Stipp, Mount Carmel received vital contributions from two underclassmen in particular, freshman Gage Kennard and sophomore Luke Laws.
Kennard, who's been a mainstay in Mount Carmel's lineup as a freshman guard, looked every bit the part of a seasoned veteran down the stretch, nailing five of his 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Laws, who's slowly been working his body back from a gruesome lower-leg injury in football season, was called upon to start with Applebey sidelined -- and boy did he come up big.
The sophomore big poured in eight first-half points, totaling a season-high 10 points in the game and providing the Aces a nice interior presence in Applebey's stead. His interior passing was another highlight, as he was a willing passer when the Tigers began to collapse three defenders into the post on Laws.
"Coming up big with Kaleb out," Buss spoke of Laws. "You could just see, not only is he getting more confident, but he's getting better. He's still got a little hitch in the giddyup and I don't know if that'll go away this year, but he's feeling more comfortable on the basketball floor and that's huge for us."
Buss was visibly jubilant following the buzzer, knowing not only what a crucial win this was for his team without their 6-foot-7 forward, but that the win advanced his team to 11-4 -- a record not many people envisioned at this point in the season.
"I'm just so proud of these guys, they bought in at the beginning of the year," Buss said. "We've said all along, with Kaleb, with Beau, with the way Gage shoots the ball, we can always figure out offense, but it's going to come down to defense. That's how you win big games, that's how you win postseason games and I just think our defense has been at times elite and other times pretty good, we just need to continue to stretch that together."
Next, his Aces will travel to Effingham for a weekend getaway at St. Anthony.
Their weekend kickstarts against the Bulldogs (13-2) of St. Anthony on Friday night, beginning with the JV teams at 6 p.m., followed by a Saturday matchup against Newton (8-7) at St. Anthony at 2 p.m. Both games will be thoroughly challenging tests for the Aces.
When asked of Applebey's status for the weekend, Buss offered that he'll likely be a gametime decision.
"Absolutely," Buss said. "It'll be a fun weekend. I don't know how fun the game Friday night will be other than it's fun to play in big games, but they're very, very talented. We'll have two days here to prep for them and prep for Newton on the fly as well. A fun weekend of basketball, come up to Effingham and support the Aces."
MC -- 16 6 11 22 -- 55
EM -- 5 12 9 25 -- 51
Aces scorers: Stipp 9 10 28, Kennard 3 2 11, Laws 2 6 10, Kline 2 0 5, Gill 0 1 1.