Foxes' defense shines in road win
Hamiton County controls tempo, wins 46-28; NCOE falls to 2-11

NORRIS CITY – There is a phrase in horse racing that is “Pace Makes The Race.”

It can also be true in high school basketball.
When one team wants to run and gun and the other team wants to keep that from happening, then the pace of the contest is, indeed, important.

The Norris City-Omaha-Enfield Fighting Cardinals weren't allowed to play the sort of game that they wanted, because visiting Hamilton County shut them down defensively and worked their half-court offense into easy looks at the basket.

Coach Jeremy Varner's club frustrated the hosts by holding them to just two second half made field goals in a 46-28 win on Saturday night.

These Foxes “trotted” off of the floor with a non-conference win after “waltzing” the Cardinals on both ends of the court.

After the two teams played a close first quarter, Hamilton County took control in the final three periods to secure the victory as they improved to 6-9 on the season.

Not only did Coach Varner's team spread the floor offensively, the Foxes shared the wealth on this night as eight different players wearing Kelly Green inked the book in the 18-point win.

Five-foot-eleven senior guard Matt Rubenacker netted 16-points for the Foxes.

This offensive gem by the squad was balanced personified as two players; senior Kyle VanAbbema and junior Randy Schaefer each scored six-points.

Junior Hunter Braden tossed in five-points while three other Foxes; sophomore Garrett Webb, freshman Robbie Morgan and sophomore Zacariah Weaver all scored four-points each.

Five-foot-nine Austin Gray added a bucket for Hamilton County to round out their attack.

Gray scored his bucket during a second quarter push by the Foxes to take complete control.

“It's a nice change, we got shots tonight and we made them. We were patient tonight and this is a nice gym to shoot in,” said Coach Varner. “We got good shots instead of forcing them. They were 'step in' good looks, facing the basket and coming off of screens”

The Foxes played without senior scoring leader Jake Whipple.

The 6-foot guard, who had broken his nose earlier in the year, played his first game on Friday night without wearing his face protection.

As bad luck would have it he ended up breaking it again during a loss to Christopher.

“We always want to control the pace with our defensive intensity and I thought we did that tonight and a better job of it in the second half,” said Coach Varner. “We were without one of our starters tonight (Whipple) but we were where we needed to be on offense. They (NCOE) were playing a match up zone and we made some cuts and got to the middle of the zone. That was when we started getting the open looks that we wanted.”

Norris City-Omaha-Enfield and head coach Evan Wyllie saw their mark drop to 2-11 on the season.

The Cardinals were led in scoring by 6-foot-2 junior Brandon Skaggs, who hit for 16-points.

He was the only player for the home team that got his average in scoring.

All of the other point totals for NCOE were below what they had averaged for the season so far.

Only four other players; sophomore Trey Simmons (5), freshman Jack Riggs (3) and junior Colton O'Neal and senior Jeb Baugart (2) scored points.

It wasn't the lack of shots for the Cardinals, it was the lack of made field goals and a complete lack of second chance points.

Hamilton County held a 27-12 rebounding advantage and they allowed only three offensive rebounds by NCOE.

“We really focus on rebounding because we can't give people second chance opportunities. That really hurt us last night (Christopher) and that was a huge key for us tonight. It was “five” committing to the box out,” said Coach Varner.

The Cardinals were just 9-of-36 from the floor (25 percent) and committed nine-turnovers.

Those two figures made it a long night for Coach Wyllie and his team as they played their first game after an eight-day lay off following the Eldorado Holiday Tournament.

“We knew that they (Hamilton County) were a patient team coming into the game and I thought we came out a little flat,” said Coach Wyllie. “We were a little lackadaisical defensively. We had a couple of spurts in the third and fourth quarters were we told them 'we have to guard somebody' and for most of the game we didn't do that.”

A 13-5 run to close the second quarter broke the final tie-score of the contest as Hamilton County took the lead for good.

Rubenacker and Braden each hit 3-point shots in the run while Morgan and Weaver got loose inside of the lane for points.

Weaver rebounded his own missed shot as the 6-foot-3 forward scored while being fouled by Baugart with :36.4 remaining in the half.

His made free throw put the Foxes in front 25-17 at the break.

The best quarter of the game by Hamilton County was also the worst for the Cardinals.

Coach Varner's team hit 5-of-7 shots from the floor in the eight minute span while NCOE was 0-of-8.

Of the eight missed shots by NCOE, seven of them wound up as defensive rebounds for the Foxes.

Rubenacker scored on a drive to the basket to start the second half and Schaefer canned a 3-pointer from the right corner.

Following a pair of free throws from Skaggs, the Foxes scored the next eight-points.

Two of the baskets were on steals, one each from Braden and Rubenacker.

The second lay up came off of the second turnover at 2:28 of the third.

That score pushed the lead to 38-19 Foxes.

Skaggs managed to make 3-of-4 free throws in the last 1:46 of the quarter (5-of-6 in the third) but the Cardinals were still in trouble at 38-22.

One of the two missed shots by Hamilton County was a three-quarter court shot at the horn.

The Foxes wrapped up the road win with Rubenacker scoring on a reverse lay in and then adding two made free throws.

VanAbbema and Webb (two each) also cashed in at the foul line as Hamilton County went 6-of-6 from the stripe in the final minutes.

For the game the Foxes were 8-of-9 from the foul line to go with their 51 percent performance from the floor (17-of-33).

They hit exactly half of their 3-point attempts (4-of-8) and, despite 15-turnovers, they were never threatened after the first quarter ended.

“Hamilton County, those kids are good athletes. I bet those guys could probably play another game. They are all cross country runners and they gave us a lot of problems,” said Coach Wyllie. “I told the kids in the locker room, give them (Hamilton County) credit. They guarded their tails off and gave us a lot of trouble.”

The good news for Coach Wyllie and his troops is that they won't play another 2A team the rest of the season.

They will host an improving Pope County squad on Tuesday night, January 9, in their next scheduled contest before hosting Carrier Mills and traveling to Grayville next Friday and Saturday.

Hamilton County will host Du Quoin on Tuesday night before heading back to Black Diamond Conference action against Johnston City at home on Friday.

“We really struggled tonight shooting the ball and we only made two field goals in the entire second half,” said Coach Wyllie. “Crashing the boards is a big part of what we do and we didn't do that tonight. I was worried coming in off of the long layoff (eight days) and that is tough for high school kids. And it is easy to get down on yourself when you aren't making shots and getting stops. We are a young team and we are still learning so it is on to the next one.”

Editor's Note: There was a moment of silence before the varsity game on Saturday for Charlie Pendell, a McLeansboro native who was known as “Super Fox.”

He was the biggest fan of Foxes' athletics over the years and he and I had many conversations over the years about his favorite school.

Charlie passed away on December 11, 2017. For fans of southern Illinois high school basketball he was well known and well liked.
He would cheer on his Foxes at every game before his health finally got the best of him.

“Super Fox” would lead the chant of “Defense Foxes, Defense” when his team needed a stop.

ABV is sure that Charles was smiling down from basketball heaven after the Hamilton County defensive performance at NCOE Saturday night.

Hamilton County
Norris City-Omaha-Enfield
Hamilton County (46) – Schaefer 0 2 0-0 6, Braden 1 1 0-0 5, VanAbbema 2 0 2-2 6, Rubenacker 5 1 2-2 15, Gray 1 0 0-0 2, Shelton 0 0 0-0 0, Webb 1 0 2-2 4, Morgan 2 0 0-0 4, Walden 0 0 0-0 0, Weaver 1 0 2-3 4.
2FG-13, 3FG-4, FT-8-9, PF-12.

Norris City-Omaha-Enfield (28)
– Healy 0 0 0-0 0, Riggs 0 1 0-0 3, Skaggs 4 0 8-9 16, Barton 0 0 0-0 0, Simmons 1 1 0-0 5, O'Neal 1 0 0-0 2, Baumgart 1 0 0-1 2.
2FG-7, 3FG-2, PF-8-10, PF-13.

Fouled Out
– None.
Technical Fouls
– None.