EDWARDSVILLE — The Southwestern Piasa Birds made the beginning and end count in Wednesday night’s second round game against the Roxana Shells in the Metro-East Lutheran Turkey Tipoff Classic.
The Birds (2-0) established a 17-7 lead in the first quarter behind Ben Lowis eight points over the first eight minutes. But the Shells wouldn't go away quietly.
Trace Gentry’s trey at the 7:14 mark of the second quarter cut Southwestern’s lead to six at 17-11. Shells' (1-1) forward Cody McMillen nailed a basket at the 2:49 mark that ignited a 13-0 Roxana run, leading the Shells to a 29-28 advantage at halftime. Chance Foss’ buzzer 3-pointer capped off the run.
“I thought our kids battled back…,” Roxana coach Mark Brigg said. “The shots they made were not really contested, but you still have to make shots. The kids didn’t play hard defensively.”
The Shells were able to capitalize on the Birds' foul problems in the run.
“We got into foul trouble,” Southwestern head coach Jason Darr said of the Roxana run. “We had to pull (Collin) Baumgartner and we had to pull (Justin) Bailey out. We didn’t handle the pressure. They came up and got in our face a little bit. We turned the ball over and they hit some shots. They’re a good basketball team.”
Neither team managed to score in the first few minutes of the third quarter. Gentry’s basket at the 4:51 mark gave the Shells a 31-28 lead, but Roxana couldn’t sustain the momentum. Caleb Robinson’s trey at the 3:41 mark kicked off a 12-7 Southwestern run and the Birds led 42-38 at the end of the third quarter.
The Piasa Birds proved their skill in outside shooting as all 12 points came off of 3-pointer — 6 of the 12 belonged to Robinson. The Birds went on to outscore the Shells 21-16 in the fourth quarter. They were 13 of 16 from the free throw line in the final frame.
“We shot free throws really well,” Darr said. “It’s what kept the game where it needed to be. We kept knocking them down.”
Justin Bailey (19 points) led a trio of scorers for the Birds in double figures, as Caden Heyen scored 17 and Robinson finished with 11.
Zach Golenor led Roxana with 16 points, Gentry had 13 and McMillen threw in 11.
“They’re kids were more hungry than our kids,” Briggs said. “They came out with high expectations. Our kids needed this. It’s not a bad loss. I think it’s a good loss for us.”
The Shells now slide into the silver bracket on Friday at MELHS. They play the Freeburg Midgets at 10 a.m. Friday and if they win, advance to battle Odin at 4 p.m. Friday. If Roxana loses to the Midgets, it plays at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Two wins on Friday propel the Shells into the silver bracket title tilt at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. A loss to Odin drops them into the third place match at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Southwestern is in the gold bracket and will battle South Central Conference rival Litchfield at 1 p.m. Friday. A win advances the Birds to a showdown with host MELHS at 7 p.m. Friday.