Harrisburg tames Lions
Bulldogs second quarter run puts Carterville away, 71-37

HARRISBURG – For a quarter plus a few minutes the Carterville Lions hung in with the host Bulldogs in a crossover SIRR Conference game on Tuesday night at Harrisburg's Davenport Gym.

But after a sluggish sort of start, Harrisburg took command with a big run to close the first half and finished off the Lions in the final two quarters.

Behind 25-points from Isaiah Saulsberry and a stingy defensive effort that created most of their offense, the Bulldogs improved to 21-7 on the season with a 71-37 triumph.

After losing both of their games last weekend in conference play to Benton and Murphysboro, Coach Randy Smithpeters was looking for a game to get his team back on track.

Following a close first quarter in which he played some seniors who normally don't play much, Harrisburg got down to business in the second frame.

Breaking a 19-19 tie, the Dawgs “pounded” the Lions with 17 unanswered points to take a 36-19 halftime lead.

The Bulldogs finished the onslaught with a big third quarter to pick up the victory over Carterville in front of a sparse crowd at Davenport Gym.

With the undefeated Harrisburg Lady Bulldogs playing up the road at Hamilton County in the 2A Sectional, the folks on hand witnessed a close first 11 minutes of game time and then a blowout for the rest of the contest.

“Our defense is always a key for us. When I look back at the games that we have lost, we lost those games because our defense needed to be better. We gave up too many easy shots in those situations,” said Coach Smithpeters. “We really tried to focus on that. We've always scored enough points to win games, we just don't always get enough stops. In the big games that we've won, we have defended well. We wanted to get back out here (after two straight losses) and step up to the level that you want to be playing at the end of February and we want to stay up there.”

Coach Shane Hawkins club played hard the whole way as the Lions fell to 3-24 on the season.

Despite the struggles of this campaign for Carterville, this squad never quit playing hard despite the numbers on the scoreboard.

In fact they played well enough in the early going to stake claim to an 11-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.

However an earthquake of defensive pressure produced a tsunami of points for Harrisburg as they put the outcome to rest by the time the two teams went to the locker rooms at intermission.

Six-foot-three senior guard Isaiah Saulsberry scored 25-points in the victory for Harrisburg to lead all scorers.

Five other Bulldogs netted at lead seven-points in the win as Coach Smithpeters had the luxury of playing a lot of kids in what turned out to be a early “Senior Night.”

Harrisburg plays Herrin at home on Friday night in the official night of honoring the 12th graders.

Senior Carson Burtis and junior Will Sanders scored nine-points apiece while senior Will Lambert and sophomore Will Gibbs “willed” in eight-points each.

Six-foot senior Jordan Bartok got in on the fun with seven-points.

“They (Harrisburg) went on a 17-0 run at the end of the half and it was mostly self-inflicted (on our part). They got out in transition and got some easy baskets,” said Coach Hawkins. “They got a guy (Saulsberry) who can get a basket anytime he wants to. He is one of the best players in the South. We competed but then it got away from us. When you are 3-24 it's hard to show up and go to work. But we came out and fought early and did some things right.”

Carterville was paced by 6-foot-3 senior Justin Johnson with 12-points in the loss.

He was the only Lions' player with double-figures in scoring.

Johnson hit a pair of first quarter baskets, including a 3-pointer, that made it 6-5 Harrisburg in the early stages of the frame.

Fidel Campbell, a 6-foot-1 senior, and Johnson closed the quarter with baskets to take the 11-10 lead.

Johnson hit two more shots, a 3-pointer from the right corner and a drive in the lane for a score while being fouled by Saulsberry.

He missed the free throw with 5:18 but the game was even at 19-19.

Then the scoring and defensive avalanche hit.

Gibbs hit a 3-pointer to get the snow moving and Saulsberry added a pair of treys in the drift.

Sanders scored twice before the half ended on shots in the paint and Saulsberry added a drive to the basket for a score.

When the all-state candidate hit his second long range bomb of the quarter with just :03 left, Harrisburg led 36-19.

“He (Saulsberry) is a really good player, a really good teammate and the part people don't see about him is the team leader that he is,” said Coach Smithpeters. “He gets the guys together for pre-game stuff. We played a 10:30 am game at the holiday tournament and he got the team to Hardee's at 7 o'clock in the morning to have a good breakfast. I was going to approach that and he said 'Coach, I already got them going. We are already meeting at 7 o'clock'. He is that kind of guy. His knowledge of the game and his being ready to play the game.”

The run continued with a bucket by Bartok to open the second half.

Senior Conner Henderson hit a 3-pointer for Carterville to break the Harrisburg scoring streak.

However the Dawgs delivered the next 11-points of the game to roll the credits.

Harrisburg forced nine-turnovers in the third quarter and Saulsberry padded the stats with six more points.

His rebound bucket of his own missed shot with 4:34 remaining pushed the lead to 49-22.

The Bulldogs' kept up the scoring, adding another 11-0 sprint to the damage at the end of the third quarter.

Bartok and Gibbs each added points while Saulsberry and senior guard Blake Drue added points.

Drue, who got into early foul trouble and spent time on the bench, scored on a steal and fast break lay in with just :05 left to make it 60-26 Bulldogs.

Both coaches subbed in reserves in the final quarter to close out the game.

Coach Smithpeters' squadron, after a cool first quarter offensively, caught fire in the second quarter.

The Bulldogs ended up 30-of-51 from the field overall (58.8 percent) with included 9-of-10 from the floor in the second stanza.

Carterville ended up 14-of-37 overall (37.8 percent) while coughing up 21 turnovers.Harrisburg ended up with 10 turnovers, but five of them were in the final minutes with the bench swinging a mop.

The hosts held a slight 24-21 rebounding edge.

“I want to give Carterville credit, what I was told by other coaches is that they won't quit. You may be up on them by 20 but they won't quit,” said Coach Smithpeters. “That was very true tonight.”

Carterville closes its regular season with home games against Pinckneyville on Friday and then a February 23 game against rival Herrin before the 3A state playoffs begin.

The third seeded Bulldogs will head to the 2A Lawrenceville Regional on Tuesday night to play #5 seed Robinson at 7:30 pm.

The winner will reach the regional title game on Friday night.

“Tonight was kind of a “Senior Night” for us and we started some players who normally don't start for us. We wanted to make it a senior night for those two guys,” said Coach Smithpeters.

Carterville (37) – Valerius 1 0 0-0 2, Johnson 2 2 2-3 12, Rector 0 0 0-0 0, Anderson 0 1 0-0 3, Henderson 0 1 0-0 3, Hawkins 0 0 0-0 0, Garbe 0 0 0-0 0, Bittle 1 0 0-1 2, Campbell 3 0 0-0 6, Pearson 1 0 0-0 2, Conwell 0 0 0-0 0, Hall 0 0 3-4 3, Laird 1 0 0-0 2, Bybee 1 0 0-0 2.
2FG-10, 3FG-4, FT-5-8, PF-10.

Harrisburg (71) – Burtis 3 1 0-0 9, Drue 1 0 0-0 2, Saulsberry 7 3 2-2 25, Lambert 4 0 0-1 8, Bartok 3 0 1-2 7, Gibbs 2 1 1-2 8, Russ 0 1 0-0 3, Sigler 0 0 0-0 0, Storms 0 0 0-0 0, Sanders 4 0 1-2 9, Smith 0 0 0-0 0. 2FG-24, 3FG-6, PF-5-9, PF-13.
Fouled Out – None.
Technical Fouls – None.