Many reasons cause a team to play inconsistently in a basketball game; to be inconsistent and still win is both lessons-learned and a morale booster. Hillsboro also enjoyed a sigh of relief after they defeated the Staunton Bulldogs 51-40 in the second game of Red Pool Play during the Carlinville Holiday Basketball Tournament Tuesday night, Dec. 28.
Inconsistent? The Toppers’ leading scorer, Drake Vogel (he had 201 points entering the game; closest to him was Gavin Matoush with 177) injured an ankle while vying for the game-opening tip. Without his services Hillsboro used a man-to-man defense to harass the Bulldogs into six turnovers and long stretches of passing the ball around the perimeter without having an opportunity to shoot. Point guard Sam Best finally scored after nearly six minutes of play, but the Toppers were up 11-2 by that time. In that first period five Toppers scored as they built a 13-2 lead.
Vogel returned briefly in the second quarter; he had two steals but also two fouls as he seemed slowed by his injury. Still, the Toppers’ domination continued; Matoush converted a post-entry pass from Will Christian to complete a 34 point half. Christian also had a steal and layup combination. He also had the only Topper trey in the opening quarter; the only designation disappeared in the second quarter as both Blaine Stewart and Deklan Riggs swished two threes each.
Staunton’s offense showed signs of life as sophomore Branden Buffington (five points) and senior Cayden Silvester (eight points) showed promise at the offensive end; still the Topper offense seemed smooth, and Hillsboro won the quarter 21-15 and the half 34-17. Hillsboro left their locker room, though, with Vogel wearing a bag of ice instead of a shoe on his ankle; he was through for the evening.
The Dogs weren’t through. Defensively, they began the half on a 1-2-2 zone, but once the Toppers approached their basket, Best dropped from the 1 position to front Matoush at high post on the free throw line. When Matoush or Blaze Helton catch a pass at the high post, he is adept at kicking the ball out to a shooter, but the Topper offense faltered when the high post seemed not available.
Silvester became a one-man gang for the Dogs in their offensive end, scoring ten points, five on free throws, as Hillsboro’s foul count mounted. Christian and Stewart had treys to help stem the tide; Matoush battled for a putback basket (he had four offensive rebounds and four defensive rebounds) to lead the Toppers in that category as well as points scored - 14. The efforts kept Hillsboro safely ahead 44-31 with only eight minutes to play.
However, for some reason the lead didn’t seem insurmountable to the Toppers. No Vogel, a rash of fouls (11 in the last period), an offense that seemed to be losing confidence in itself, and a bizarre call kept suspense alive.
The bizarre call? Christian, who stepped up to score 13 points to accompany his team -high four assists, lost an assist and Matoush a basket plus a free throw attempt early in the fourth quarter. He drove the right baseline; when Matoush’s defender switched to stop the drive, Christian shoveled to Matoush before stepping out of bounds. Matoush scored even though he drew a foul, but another official stepped in -- he said Christian had moved to a rebounding position while he was out-of-bounds, thus nullifying the play. It’s the “gunner” rule in football that says a player defending against a punt return can’t avoid blockers by stepping out of bounds to escape them. It seems seldom applied to basketball, and it contributed to the angst of Hillsboro fans.
Somehow the Toppers regained their composure. Though the Bulldogs had cut the lead to single digits (44-35) as the quarter began, and although Buffington had seven points after that, the Bulldogs missed seven free throws in the second half.
The lead shrank to seven before Christian made both ends of a one and one opportunity to ease the pressure; the ‘Dogs won the period, 8-7, but lost the game 51-40.
Three Toppers: Matoush with 14, Christian with 13, and Blaine Stewart with 11, were in double figures; only two Bulldogs, Silvester (20) and Buffington (14) did that for Staunton. Matoush, Christian, and Jace Stewart had the Topper blocked shots; Blaine Stewart collected four steals to lead that category. Christian, Matoush, and Jace Stewart were the Toppers who had at least one slash in each statistical category.
Good shooting, especially in the first half, helped the Toppers’ effort tremendously: 67% (12 of 18) from inside the arc was important; 41% (7 of 17) from three point land was impressive too. The overall percentage (54%) has been topped only by the 56% made against Gillespie the previous night.
Dec. 28 at Carlinville
Carlinville Holiday Tournament
Hillsboro 13 21 10 7 51
Staunton 2 15 14 9 40
Hillsboro (51) - Gavin Matoush 14, Will Christian 13, Blaine Stewart 11, Deklan Riggs 6, Blaze Helton 5, Jace Stewart 2. Totals: 19-35 6-12 51.
Staunton (40) - Caden Silvester 20, Braden Buffington 14, Sam Best 4, Cole Sternickle 2. Totals: 13 12-19 40.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 7 (B. Stewart 3, Christian 2, Riggs 2); Staunton 2 (Buffington 1, Silvester 1).
Records: Hillsboro (7-6); Staunton 2-8).
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