LITCHFIELD — It may not have been the prettiest way to accomplish it, but the Civic Memorial Eagles are where they want to be — the semifinals of the Litchfield Invitational.
CM edged Nokomis 45-36 on Tuesday to close out pool play in Litchfield at 2-0. The Eagles will now face Taylorville in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The Tornadoes defeated the Roxana Shells 84-58 on Tuesday to earn their way to the semis.
With CM's win over Nokomis it improved to 11-6 on the season. The Redskins are now 9-9.
“We're in the semifinals and we're the defending champs and these guys have been talking about that the last week and a half and that's what we want to do, win it again,” CM head coach Doug Carey said.
Senior Zack Lehnen is happy to see the Eagles back in the running for the tourney title. Lehnen paced the offense with 11 points on Tuesday.
“It's very important,” Lehnen said of defending the title. “It would be really cool, especially my senior year to go back and win the championship for the second year in a row. It would be real cool for us as teammates.”
Early on Tuesday it looked like the path to the semifinals might be fairly easy for the Eagles. They had defeated Nokomis 56-41 on Nov. 28 at the Stove Top Stuffing Classic and raced out to a 7-0 lead on Tuesday. Lehnen had a field goal and a 3-pointer sandwiched around a bucket from Adam Hill to start the game.
A trey by Brett Lane pushed CM in front 14-4 with 12.5 seconds left in the first quarter and when the buzzer sounded on the frame the Eagles led 14-6. The tide changed quickly in the second quarter though.
The Redskins outscored the Eagles 11-4 in the second quarter, dwindling CM's lead to 18-17 entering the half.
One thing Nokomis did was contain 6-foot-8 senior Jakob Lowrance. Lowrance, who averages 17.4 points per game, was held to just two points in the first half and six for the game, all from the free throw line.
“We had a plan of how we wanted to play him and for the most part we did pretty good,” Nokomis head coach Steve Kimbro said. “The idea was to just keep him five, six feet from the basket and not let him get rebounds. If he wants to shoot perimeter let him shoot perimeter. For the most part we did that, but give Bethalto credit, the other kids stepped up and filled in the points he wasn't giving and he gave them a lot of rebounding inside and played physical and strong.”
The Redskins were able to continue to give the Eagles fits in the third quarter. After five quick points from Brandon Hampton, CM went cold.
Nokomis strung together a 15-2 run and transformed a 23-17 deficit into a 32-25 lead. As the smoke cleared on the third quarter the Redskins owned a 34-29 lead, sparked by 10 points from senior Marcus Chausse.
“We played passive and missed some shots we should have made in the first quarter, second quarter,” Carey said. “After that we kind of got timid offensively and just weren't very aggressive.”
Lehnen agreed with his coach. He thought the Eagles got a little passive and let Nokomis get the slip on them.
“We were just falling asleep on defense and they were getting a lot of backdoor cuts behind us and breaking our press and we weren't getting back,” Lehnen said. “They were getting layups and we just kind of fell asleep there for a little bit.”
If the Eagles had fallen asleep, they woke up in the fourth quarter. CM turned up the heat over the final eight minutes, forcing the Redskins into eight turnovers and holding them to just two points on a pair of free throws by freshman Hendrix Barnes.
The Eagles took the lead at 35-34 on a shot by Lane and a 3-pointer by the junior with 3:25 to go put CM up for good at 38-36.
“The fourth quarter we were more aggressive, playing like we have been lately,” Carey said. “I guess it's dumb coaching on my part for not going to that trapping man-to-man earlier in the game. We should have done that for four quarters.”
Carey praised Lehnen down the stretch, too. The 6-3 senior had some clutch rebounds down the stretch to go with his team-high 11 points.
“Zach Lehnen played great for us tonight,” said Carey. “I know he had at least seven offensive rebounds. He had a bunch of rebounds, had his hands on a lot of balls. That was probably the best he's played all season and we needed him tonight.”
Carey admitted winning despite the quiet night offensively from Lowrance was a big for CM.
“If we can win without him scoring all those points that's pretty good for us,” Carey said. “They had two big kids surrounding him all night when he caught the ball and he just didn't have a very good shooting night tonight, too. He had a couple of chances in the second half and he just didn't knock them down, but like we say, a win is a win is a win and we'll take it.”
CM 14 4 11 16 — 45
NOKOMIS 6 11 17 2 — 36
CM (11-6) — Brandon Hampton 10, Zack Lehnen 11, Adam Hill 2, Brett Lane 10, Jakob Lowrance 6, Jaquan Adams 6. 2FG — 12 3FG — 4 FT — 9 PF — 12
NOKOMIS (9-9) — Marcus Chausse 14, Reid Detmers 16, Hendrix Barnes 4, Brayden Sabol 2. 2FG — 12 3FG — 2 FT — 6 PF — 13