By Louie Korac - For The Telegraph
Marquette Catholic’s Isaiah Ervin (right) brings the ball upcourt as he drives past Gibault’s Dylan Altadonna during the Feb. 24 championship game of the Waterloo Gibault Class 2A Regional. The Explorers added a sectional title on Friday in Nashville and will play Tuesday in the Carbondale Super-Sectional at SIU Arena.
NASHVILLE — Nashville coach Brad Weathers felt he had the perfect tonic to defuse what works best for Marquette Catholic.
For much of the success the Hornets had in the first half was utilizing a diamond-and-one defense that had the Explorers mezmerized for most of the first half. It resulted in a nine-point Nashville lead at Assembly Hall that was as big as 13 (22-9) at one point, and more times than not, in a tough building with a raucous crowd, the home side won’t relinquish a lead of that magnitude often, at least not with a sectional championship on the line.
But the Explorers, who turned the tide on the Hornets with a huge third quarter before settling into a more disciplined fourth quarter and taking the air out of the basketball, got back to what it did best by speeding up the game, and in the process, turned that 13-point deficit into a lead as large as eight before going on to a 55-48 win, the school’s first-ever sectional championship at the Nashville Class 2A Sectional on Friday.
“They adjusted, especially in the back court and we struggled,” Weathers said. “We had some lapses. Give them credit. They’d run and jump in the half court. We knew it was coming and still didn’t handle it well like we have in the past.
“We felt we could play with them. It was just a matter of how we could guard them. I thought we could score, but defensively, we did well with what we could early and it worked really good until they turned up the heat.”
And when Marquette (30-3), which will get a rematch with Mt. Carmel (26-4) in the Carbondale Super-Sectional at SIU Arena at 7:30 p.m., turned up the heat on the Hornets (20-13), those 3-pointers that weren’t going in the first half were swishing through the net, and turnovers became a nightmare for the home side.
“It says a lot about our kids,” Marquette coach Steve Medford said. “Typically, a senior-laden team would be able to pull this off, but we’ve got sophomores and juniors to come up and kind of fight and kept their heads up, kept their dobbers up and kept fighting and grinding, it says a lot about the character kids we have.
“Isaiah Ervin (11 points), he’s instant ‘O.’ Sammy Green (15 points), he’s instant ‘O.’ Reagan Snider (20 points), he can be instant ‘O.’ All three of those guys, you get around them, they don’t lack confidence; they don’t lack any confidence. These kids, they think they can beat Michael Jordan 1-on-1. That’s what I love about my kids is there’s never a shot that’s too big for any one of those kids. It’s what we’ve done all year, so why now over-coach them to try and tell them, ‘We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that.’ Let them cut it a little bit and let them play and I thought they did a good job with it tonight.”
“We just knew we had the better guards,” said Snider, who pumped in 15 in the second half. “We just needed to get up in them, and we just started getting momentum and just carried it into the fourth.
“Coach said , ‘We’ve had all these things go bad and we’re still only down nine, so if you do all these things wrong and you’re only down nine, what’s going to happen when you play good?’ That’s what we did in the third and fourth quarter. It was Helter Skelter for them and we just turned that pressure up. We had the quicker guards. That was obvious, so we just turned up the pressure.”
With Ervin, who scored 11 including a pair of treys and a steal and layup during an 18-2 run, in foul trouble after picking up his fourth with 52.1 seconds left in the third, Marquette used the early portions of the fourth quarter by taking the air out of the ball and forcing Nashville to extend its defense and chase the game.
“I thought that was real key,” Medford said. “We were really trying to get them to just slow down the game. We wanted to (at that point) make it a possession game. We thought if we could drag them out a little bit, it was going to be to our advantage because of our speed. First half they sat back and kind of triangled us. Once we got the lead, them we got to run oyr base offense a little bit and took the air out of it a little bit. I thought our guys did a good job of it.”
Until Tuesday, the Explorers, who lost 34-32 to the Golden Aces in overtime during the Pinckneyville Shootout on Jan. 28, are living in the moment, and rightfully so.
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” Medford said. “I love it, man.”