Southwestern junior guard Andrew Fry soars to the basket during the second quarter of Tuesday night's game at Roxana.
ROXANA – Matt Hartnett of the Roxana Shells picked the right time to have his most productive game of the season.
The 6-foot-5 senior scored a season-high 23 points Tuesday night to guide the Shells by Southwestern 61-45 in a South Central Conference game. Roxana, winning for the fifth time in its last six games, is 16-9 overall and 4-2 in the SCC. The Piasa Birds, who had won nine of their last 10 games, are 14-10 and 4-2.
“We’re getting a lot of team chemistry and starting to play our best basketball,” said Hartnett, who matched his career-best point output. He hit for 23 last season against Lovejoy.
This time, Hartnett made 7 of 18 shots, including a trio of treys. Teammate Charlie Sheets, another 6-5 senior, was equally effective. He scored 14 points and collected 13 rebounds.
“Matt hit some big shots and we took advantage of the fact that they didn’t guard him too closely,” Roxana coach Mark Briggs said. “And Charlie is a beast. He plays great defense and is the best post player in the conference. I can’t say enough about him.”
Hartnett and Sheets combined for 16 first-half points as Roxana moved ahead 25-21. Southwestern, which made only 5 of 21 shots the first half, improved in the second half by making 11 of 26 field-goal tries. Yet the Piasa Birds were hounded by 11 second-half turnovers.
“We never had a chance from the get-go because we didn’t have a post presence,” Southwestern coach Jason Darr said. “Hartnett played well and hit some shots that he usually doesn’t make. But Sheets was the difference for their team.
Darr added, “He kind of pushed us out of the post. It was a physical game, but we have to play through it.”
Junior guard Blake Lawson tried to ignite the Piasa Birds. He connected on 5 of 11 shots and scored a team-best 12 points. However, no other Southwestern player managed to score in double figures.
“Roxana did a good job pressuring us and there were limited possessions for both teams,” Darr said. “We’re still a young team and we have to keep growing. So we’re just trying to get better.”
So is Hartnett. He found a comfort zone against the Piasa Birds.
“After I made my first shot, I felt more confident and then things started going our way,” Hartnett said. “Charlie did a tremendous job.”
Briggs figures the Shells are still in the thick of things for the SCC title. They caught Southwestern and now are taking aim at Litchfield and Greenville. Roxana has a rescheduled SCC game Thursday at Gillespie and then goes to Marquette Catholic on Friday in a nonconference battle.
“I think we are playing our best basketball of the season now,” Briggs said. “Our guards have really improved since the start of the season and we are still in contention for the conference championship.”
Darr noted, “The team that wins the conference could do it with two losses, so this puts Roxana back in it.”
Chance Foss pitched in 10 points and reserve freshman guard Zach Golenor punched in eight points – on a trey and five free throws – to complement Hartnett and Sheets.
ROXANA 61, SOUTHWESTERN 45
Southwestern 6 15 15 9 – 45
Roxana 14 11 18 18 – 61
Southwestern (14-10, 4-2) – Gallaher 8, Rose 5, Johnson 2, Lawson 12, Baumgartner 4, Fry 8, Robinson 3, Schiller 3. 2FG-16 3FG-0 FT-13 PF-18
Roxana (16-9, 4-2) – Gentry 6, Hartnett 23, Sheets 14, Foss 10, Golenor 8. 2FG-12 3FG-7 FT-16 PF-14