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Marquette senior guard Shandon Boone brings the ball up court on Nov. 27 during a semifinal bout with the Gibault Hawks at MELHS’ 18-team Thanksgiving Tournament.
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Roxana’s Trace Gentry prepares to fire up a 3-pointer against Bunker Hill at the MELHS Turkey Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 28. Gentry hit a buzzer-beating trey to win that game for the Shells.
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Blake Marks of EA-WR drives around a Christ Our Rock defender on Nov. 28 in tournament action at MELHS.
There was something for everyone last week at the 35th annual Metro East Lutheran High Thanksgiving Turkey Tip-Off Classic in Edwardsville.
No doubt, it was designed that way.
With 18 schools, six pools of three teams and a trio of brackets, it featured nonstop basketball competition all week. By the time last Saturday’s finals finished, the host Knights emerged with the championship, their first in five years.
All it took was an overtime title game for their 53-52 win in front of a packed house at Thomas Hooks Gym. Nothing more, nothing less.
Marquette Catholic and Roxana joined East Alton-Wood River as the Greater Alton representatives. The 3-1 Explorers took third, while the 4-1 Shells snared seventh, or the silver title. And the 2-3 Oilers placed 14th, or runner-up in the bronze bracket.
Three local squads competed in three divisions the final day. It was made to order for them.
The tourney is a far cry from 1981 when it debuted as a four-team, round-robin affair and Livingston High won it. Livingston also claimed championships in 1985 and 1987 before the school shut its doors in 2005.
Now, there are teams from throughout Southwestern Illinois and even St. Louis participating in the five-day event. It’s so popular that the season-opening tournament requires two gyms. An 18-team tourney is rare. That’s part of its appeal.
“I like it because it’s close to home and you get to play some good competition,” Marquette coach Steve Medford said. “You get to play some high-quality teams and you get to play some different ones. It also gives you a chance to get some wins under your belt.”
EA-WR coach Kyle Duncan agreed.
“You have a lot of good teams playing in it. The competition is tough.”
Roxana coach Mark Briggs wouldn’t begin the Shells’ campaign any other way.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to get in a lot of games against different teams at the start of the season,” he said. “You get to play five games in a week’s time and you play against teams with different styles.
“By the time you leave here, you have a great feel for where you are at during the start of the season.”
The Shells’ Trace Gentry, who sank a 3-point shot just before the buzzer to beat Bunker Hill, 52-51, for seventh place, relishes the MELHS setting.
“I really like the competition,” Gentry said. “It’s good for us and gets us ready for the season. I know that it feels good to come out of here with a 4-1 record.”
The Greater Alton representatives have enjoyed their share of success in the long-running tournament. The Oilers finished first in 1998 and 2001. Marquette prevailed in 2000, 2002 and 2003. Roxana has claimed six titles: 1989, 1990, 1991, 1997, 1999 and 2012.
Roxana’s Brad Haug (1982), Tyler Arnold (1990), Steve Sherwood (1991), Adam Miller (1997), Ross Cherepkai (1999) and Hunter Reine (2012), EA-WR’s Flint Ory (1998) and Travis Williams (2001), plus Marquette’s Pat King (2000) and Nick Certa (2002, 2003), have emerged as tourney MVPs. Certa and Lovejoy’s Dwayne Hamiel (2007, 2008) are the only players to secure the award twice.
Briggs pointed out, “There weren’t a lot of big guys playing in this year’s tournament, so that’s why everybody relied on 3-point shooters. It was a perimeter-oriented shooting tournament.”
That’s why Southwestern’s Justin Bailey hit 11 treys in a win over Litchfield and Gentry hit for nine in Roxana’s victory over Odin. The Shells sank 17 shots beyond the arc in that one. Both Gentry’s and the team’s efforts were school records for a game.
Bunker Hill made 14 treys, accounting for all but nine of the Minutemen’s points, in the narrow loss to Roxana. In the second half, Bunker Hill scored 33 points on 10 treys and 3 free throws. The Minutemen didn’t make a 2-point shot after the first quarter and had three in all.
“I’ve never had a team give up 14 3-pointers in one game and win it,” Briggs said. “I don’t know if that has happened to any coach in the state.”
Marquette’s defense stymied 3-2 Southwestern in the third-place game. The Piasa Birds made only 9 of 38 shots and scored no more than 10 points in any quarter.
“We have to play good defense,” said Explorers’ guard Shandon Boone, an 18-point performer against Southwestern. “We will do what we need to do to get a win.”
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