WOOD RIVER — The Marquette Catholic Explorers started quickly and didn't look back in a 70-34 Prairie State Conference win over East Alton-Wood River inside Memorial Gymnasium on Friday.
The victory secured the outright PSC championship for Marquette, which improved to 15-6 overall and a flawless 5-0 on the league slate. EA-WR slipped to 5-17 overall and 0-1 in the PSC. The Oilers still have conference games with Nokomis, Metro East Lutheran, Mount Olive and Bunker Hill remaining on the schedule.
“The kids had a little know of it,” Marquette head coach Steve Medford said of the PSC title. “Quite honestly I hadn't put a lot of thought into it. Obviously we want to win every game and the kids know that it's a conference championship. I thought (Metro East Lutheran) was a good basketball team and that was a really good win for us. This conference is getting a little tougher with Metro and Nokomis competing every year. We're happy about winning it, but it's just all about trying to get better every game.”
EA-WR head coach Kyle Duncan game planned to slow the Explorers on Friday. In the last two contests against them the Oilers had lost by a combined 12 points, but that wasn't the case on Friday.
After EA-WR's Blake Marks sank a 3-pointer to kick start the scoring in the first quarter, Marquette methodically produced a 24-0 run that spanned nearly 7 minutes. The Explorers led 21-3 at the conclusion of the first quarter and then a trey by Trey Aguirre to open the second pushed it to 24-3.
“The (Shandon) Boone kid is a heck of a ball player and we tried to do what we did against (Deion) Lavender two years ago because we had some success with that,” Duncan said. “We had two guys on him at all time and it worked for a little while, but they hit a couple shots and we tried to get back in a zone and we'd lose him in traffic, make mental mistakes. I thought we did a good job the first four minutes, but after that it kind of fell apart.”
Marquette hit 6 treys during its 24-0 scoring spree. Aguirre hit two, Reagan Snider nailed a pair and Boone sank two of them.
Medford thought the sharp shooting from beyond the arc quickly took the Oilers out of what they wanted to do defensively. That opened the shifty Boone up, too. He finished with a game-high 23 points, including 16 in the first half.
“They had a little gimmick going on between a triangle-and-2 and a box-and-1. There were two guys almost mirroring Shandon, so the other guys stepped up and made shots,” Medford said. “We had some guys shoot the ball with confidence and when you make baskets, especially from the perimeter it obviously opens a lot more things up. We got them out of that and then finally they went to a zone and then Shandon got to do some things and they went to man and we got to do some more things.”
And while Marquette's leading scorer, Boone, was able to enjoy a fruitful night, the Explorers did a good job on EA-WR's leading scorer Marks.
Marks joined the 1,000-point club for the Oilers earlier this season and he's been climbing the ladder. He entered Friday with 1,252 career points, good for fifth on the all-time EA-WR list. At halftime Marks was limited to just four points. He ended up with a team-high 16 points.
“They're just a good team,” Duncan said. “They play physical, but they play good defense. They're physical and kind of beat us up a little bit, but they're smart about it so it's not really a foul. Then our kids usually get a solid foul that's probably not very smart, but our kids are learning and getting better.”
Medford added, “I thought Reagan Snider did a real good job on (Marks) in the first half. We switch a lot of ball screens and other guys were going to have to guard him and he threw up some shots and got some points that were probably classified as some junk points, but he's a good player and he can make some shots. He can throw it up at times and I think our guys did a good job of knowing where he was at.”
Marquette utilized a 15-0 run later in the second quarter to balloon the lead to 43-6, before leading comfortably 45-10 at the break. Two free throws by Hunter Hall of the Oilers finally lifted them to double figures in scoring with 45.7 seconds left in the half.
The Explorers went to their bench for a good portion of the second half, getting some freshmen and sophomores some much needed looks for the stretch run. Testing the bench was key according to Medford, because he hopes to utilize a little more depth as the postseason approaches.
“We had three freshmen on the floor, a sophomore and a junior on the floor at one point,” he said. “It's a young class. We've got a pretty good freshmen class and you always want to think about next year and build your program and I thought they did a good job. Hopefully we can get some guys that can give us some more depth because quite honestly when we play against the larger schools we're only confident in about six guys, so we're trying to find a seventh and eighth guy so we can get guys some more fresh legs.”
Marquette extended its lead to 62-22 after three quarters on the way to the win.
Boone was joined in double figures for the Explorers by freshman Nick Hemann with 11 points and Ben Sebacher with 10 points.
Complementing Marks for the Oilers were Justin Englar and Luke Wells with 6 points each on Friday.
There is no rest for EA-WR or Marquette, as both are back on the court Saturday. The Oilers welcome Nokomis at 7:15 p.m. for a PSC contest at Memorial Gym, while the Explorers battle Pinckneyville on its home court in the Pinckneyville Shootout at 8:30 p.m.
PRAIRIE STATE CONFERENCE
MARQUETTE 70, EA-WR 34
Explorers 21 24 17 8 — 70
Oilers 3 7 12 12 — 34
Marquette (15-6, 5-0) — Trey Aguirre 6, Shandon Boone 23, Nick Messinger 4, Reagan Snider 7, Ben Sebacher 10, Nick Hemann 11, Chris Hartrich 3, Tim Derrington 2, Isaiah Ervin 2, Duncan McLain 2. 2FG — 17 3FG — 8 FT — 12.
EA-WR (5-17, 0-1) — Justin Englar 6, Blake Marks 16, Cody Blacklock 2, Luke Wells 6, Hunter Hall 4. 2FG — 5 3FG — 2 FT — 12.