PINCKNEYVILLE — The Marquette Catholic Explorers took their best shot, but in the end it wasn't enough to upend the Breese Central Cougars on Tuesday.
Marquette fell 38-34 to the Cougars in a tight contest at the Class 2A Pinckneyville Sectional semifinals at Duster Thomas Gymnasium. The loss ended the Explorers' season at 21-10, while talented Central improved to 28-4 and advanced to the regional title tilt at 7 p.m. Friday. The Cougars await the winner of host Pinckneyville and Nashville, which play in the other sectional semifinal on Wednesday.
For the second time this season Marquette took Central down to the wire. The Explorers lost 38-36 to the Cougars on Feb. 19 at MCHS. They just didn't quite have enough again in the sectionals.
“Credit Breese and coach (Jeremy) Shubert and what they do,” Marquette head coach Steve Medford said. “They do a great job. I'm really proud of my kids. I thought they played extremely hard, but our lack of scoring all year long has really hurt us and it kind of shows up in big games like this. We defended really, really well and it's always kept us in games and it kept us in the game again tonight.”
While Medford was pleased with the defensive effort of the Explorers, Shubert echoed the same sentiment on the other side about his team's defense.
“Our defensive effort was great,” Shubert said. “That’s what wins it for you in the postseason. I’ve got to commend my guys for stepping up and having an outstanding game defensively.”
Still, Marquette found itself in striking distance late, cutting it to 36-34 when senior Shandon Boone sank an acrobatic shot in the paint with 34 seconds remaining. Boone scored 7 of his team-best 15 in the fourth quarter, while fellow senior Ben Sebacher netted 9 of his 13 in the final frame. The duo accounted for all 16 of the Explorers' fourth-quarter points.
Sebacher and Boone were joined by Trey Aguirre and Tim Derrington in playing their final games for Marquette on Tuesday. Medford commended his senior class.
“I'm losing a lot, I really am,” Medford said. “I was telling the young kids that we have that those kids went about it the right way. They never missed anything, they were at everything, they worked hard and they bought into everything and it's the reason we had some success because of those guys. They're going to be greatly missed and obviously a guy like Shandon who can fill it up is going to leave big shoes to fill, but I think we have some good young kids in our program and we'll build on it next year.”
It was Jack Strieker that closed it out for Central. He had a pair of free throws with 21.7 seconds to go to seal it. Strieker paced the Cougars Tuesday with 15 points which was much appreciated by his coach.
“Can't say enough about Jack Strieker stepping up and being our leading scorer tonight,” Shubert said. “That was very important for us and he needed that for confidence purposes and we need that consistently from him for however long our season continues.”
While offense came in the fourth quarter, it was at a premium the rest of the game.
Central led just 9-5 after one quarter and 19-14 at the half. The Explorers were just 4 of 11 at the break, all of their scoring coming via the 3-pointer, while the Cougars were just 6 of 21 from the field.
The eight offense rebounds Central corralled in the first half made a difference accompanied by its defense, which forced Marquette into 11 first-half turnovers.
“We turned them over 11 times in the first half and that was big,” Shubert said. “That was big and took some wind out of them a little bit.
“We outrebounded ourselves offensively more than we did defensively. That's what we tell our kids, go to the boards hard and (Marquette) defensively gets a lot out of their team. (Medford) does a good job. They're in the lane, they're helping and we're going to see a lot of that Friday night as well.”
Medford was still happy to only be trailing by five at the break. He thought considering how poorly the offense played the Explorers remained in the game.
“When you have 11 turnovers in the first half and 11 shots that's not going to get it done,” he said. “I really felt good at halftime knowing it was 19-14. I thought we had a real legitimate chance even though we didn't play very well. There's a reason why we didn't play well though, it's because they defended really well, so credit Breese.”
It was still just 24-18 after three quarters before Marquette made its fourth-quarter push.
For the game, the Explorers shot 46 percent (13 of 28), while the Cougars were 12 of 36 (33 percent). It helped that Central was 10 of 14 from the charity stripe for 71 percent. Marquette was just 3 of 7 for 42 percent.
Tuesday marked the third time the Explorers have lost to the Cougars in sectional play under Medford's regime. They lost in the sectional semifinals in '11-12 and the sectional finals in '10-11.
CLASS 2A PINCKNEYVILLE SECTIONAL
BREESE CENTRAL 38, MARQUETTE 34
Explorers 5 9 4 16 — 34
Cougars 9 10 5 14 — 38
Marquette (21-10) — Ben Sebacher 13, Shandon Boone 15, Nick Messinger 3, Tim Derrington 3. 2FG — 8 3FG — 5 FT — 3 PF — 15.
Breese Central (28-4) — Chase Schneider 3, Kolby Schulte 1, Logan Kohrmann 13, Jack Strieker 15, Mitchel Rule 5, Corben Zanger 1. 2FG — 8 3FG — 4 FT — 10 PF — 8.