JERSEYVILLE — A productive finish failed to erase a sluggish start for the Marquette Catholic Explorers on Friday at Havens Gym in Jerseyville.
The Explorers fell 13 points behind Cahokia early in the second quarter and absorbed a 44-38 defeat in the seventh annual Jersey Panthers’ Mid-Winter Classic.
The Comanches, who improved to 7-12 overall and 3-1 in the tournament, can win it Saturday if they can beat Collinsville in their 5:30 p.m. game. Cahokia, which captured tourney titles in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014, sports a 27-5 record in the tourney.
“We love it here,” Comanches’ coach Darian Nash said. “We see some different teams, but it’s a tournament where anybody can beat anybody on a given night.”
The Explorers, who dropped to 13-6 overall and 1-3, made a fourth-quarter push in hopes of making it their night against the Comanches.
They got within 4 points of Cahokia 3 times, including a 37-33 deficit with 2:05 remaining, yet couldn’t overtake the Comanches.
“We were a little intimidated early in the game, but once we calmed down and relaxed, we played better,” Marquette coach Steve Medford said. The Explorers meet Pittsfield at 4 p.m. Saturday in their tournament finale.
Medford added, “We got down too much early in the game and never quite got over the hump. Our kids are pretty tough, they played hard and gave a good effort. Cahokia is a more athletic team and we didn’t have much comfort.
“It was a good experience for us to see that kind of pressure.”
Senior guard Shandon Boone did his best to deal with Cahokia’s pressurized play. He scored a game-best 20 points, including 9 of them — on 3 treys — in the fourth quarter. His scoring accounted for more than half of the Explorers’ points.
“We tried to face-guard him with different players,” Nash said. “I’m glad he’s a senior because it seems like we’ve been playing against him for 10 years.”
Medford added, “Shandon is working on overload right now. The guy can’t do it all for us on offense. Defensively we are good, but overall on offense, we are struggling a bit. We need more guys to contribute offensively."
Teammate Ben Sebacher tallied six points, all in the fourth quarter. Trey Aguirre netted five points, three in the first quarter. Nick Messinger scored all of his four points in the second quarter and Reagan Snider connected on a trey in the third quarter for his three points.
Other than the points from the 5-8 Boone, that was it.
Nash, however, never discounted the Explorers, even after Cahokia grabbed a 16-3 advantage in the second quarter. The Comanches used a 14-0 spree to build that lead.
“You know that their guys are scrappy and they have a lot of fight in them,” Nash said. “And we are young and inexperienced at finishing games.”
Cahokia did it the right way against Marquette. The Comanches converted 10 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter and made both of their field-goal attempts. Overall, they were 14 of 30 from the field and 12 of 15 from the line. Jackorey Davis, a 6-0 junior, led them with 16 points. Thomas Bell, a 6-6 junior, punched in 13 points. They combined to make 7 of 9 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“Those free throws down the stretch made the difference for us,” Nash said.
Marquette hit 12 of 32 shots, with Boone going 6-for-12. The Explorers were 8-for-10 from the foul line. They made just 1 of 7 field-goal tries and committed 4 of their 12 turnovers in their 3-point first quarter.
“We haven’t put able to put four quarters together all season,” Medford said. “But we were still right there at the end of the game, like we have been in all three of our tournament losses here. I think we’ve had a good game plan for every one of them.”
He senses their tourney finale against Pittsfield could loom as a key one.
“We were 0-5 here last season and we want to come out of this tournament with 2 wins,” Medford said. “So we want to get one tomorrow. Hopefully, we will come out and battle them.”
CAHOKIA 44, MARQUETTE CATHOLIC 38
Marquette 3 10 10 15 — 38
Cahokia 14 6 10 14 — 44
Marquette (13-6) — Shandon Boone 20, Trey Aguirre 5, Ben Sebacher 6, Nick Messinger 4, Reagan Snider 3. 2FG-6 3FG-6 FT-8 PF-17
Cahokia (7-12) — Thomas Bell 13, Jackorey Davis 16, Chris McRoberts 4, Elijah Rice 4, Eugene Gully 5, Malik Johnson 2. 2FG-10 3FG-4 FT-12 PF-10