Fighting Cardinals, Pirates win on opening night
NCOE dispatches Galatia; Pope County routs Carrier Mills
HARRISBURG – Coming into the week long annual Greater Egyptian Conference tournament, the Norris City-Omaha-Enfield Fighting Cardinals have already guaranteed at least a share of the regular season title, having already played the league games and finishing 6-1.

But Coach Jim Tucker and his club would love to take home the tournament championship, also.

The Fighting Cardinals took a step towards that “crowned jewel” of this conference with a big first half defensive effort.

Behind 6-foot-5 junior forward/center Joe Melton clogging up the middle of the floor on both ends and a strong perimeter defensive showing, NCOE advanced to the semifinals with a 52-39 win over the number eight seeded Galatia Bearcats at Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, the annual host of the event.

Melton scored 19 points, hauled down 10 rebounds and swatted away a couple of Galatia shot attempts as the Fighting Cardinals improved to 14-6 on the season.

Five-foot-eleven senior guard Trey Simmons added eight points for NCOE while teammates CJ Richardson and Preston Long chipped in seven points each.

Junior guard Ty Money added six points while senior Eli Brown netted five as six different players scored.

But it was the defensive end of the floor that proved to be their best work on this night.

They held Coach Rod Wallace's Galatia club to just nine first half points as they forced a poor early shooting performance (4-of-16) in the first 16 minutes.

“We played pretty well defensively in the first half, we gave up two points in the first quarter and seven points in the second and that is what we have relied on most of the year,” said Coach Tucker. “In the second half I tried a few different matchups that we hadn't tried or really practiced this season so we had some breakdowns in the second half. But they (Galatia) started shooting the ball better in the second half. But our guys stayed composed and calm and a win is a win.”

The Bearcats saw their record slip to 3-17 overall as they will now head into the consolation side of the bracket.

Five-foot-ten sophomore Klayton Wright and 6-foot-2 senior AJ Hankins topped the scoring for the Bearcats with 14 and 12 points respectively.

Galatia also got six points from sophomore Zane Carlile, four points from junior Tye Murphy and a 3-pointer for three points from sophomore Trevor Hale.

The Cardinals led the entire way, beginning the game with an 8-0 run.

Melton scored early on a rebound basket and then added a three-point play on a rebound and pass from Money to Melton in the lane.

After being fouled by Wright, Melton added the free throw.

During the run, Long hit from “long distance” for a 3-pointer for the eight-point spread early.

Following an answer from Galatia with Murphy scoring on a drive in the lane, NCOE added a pair of scores, one each by Simmons and Money to end the frame at 12-2 NCOE.

After hitting just 1-of-8 shots and committing two turnovers, the Bearcats were down double-digits starting the second quarter.

Galatia got going in the second quarter, thanks to two early buckets by Wright and Hankins, cutting into the Cardinals lead.

However Galatia would get just one more shot to fall, a 3-pointer from Hankins, the remainder of the half.

NCOE got points from Richardson and Brown as both nailed 3-point shots.

A fast break score from Richardson on a nice assist from Money closed the first half scoring at 21-9 Cards.

After all of the missed shots and seven first half turnovers, Galatia was fortunate to only be down by 12.

NCOE got off to a good beginning of the second half.

An 11-3 scoring move to open play in the third quarter pushed the lead 20 points.

Simmons scored on a pass in the lane from Melton to start the run and Melton, on the next possession, grabbed yet another offensive rebound for points.

A cut to the basket by Long on a pass from Richardson was followed up by a three-point play by Melton as he was fouled on a baseline drive.

Two free throws by Long closed the run at 32-12 NCOE with 4:00 left in the third.

To the Bearcats credit, they didn't give up hope and cut into the lead before the final buzzer.

Wright scored twice during a quarter ending 9-4 run to get within 36-21 entering the fourth quarter.

Wright scored four of the points and Hale knocked down his only shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.

NCOE put the game away early in the fourth with more points coming from Brown with a pair of free throws and six points from Melton.

The junior hit a two shots, one from around the foul line and the other inside on a nice assist from Simmons.

When Melton added a couple of free throws, NCOE was up 44-23 with 5:17 left.

The final points for the Cardinals came courtesy of Simmons.

The senior scored on a drive to the basket while being fouled.

Although he missed the free throw his teammate Long grabbed the rebound and, subsequently, got the ball back to Simmons who scored in the lane for a 52-31 lead with 2:43 left.

The Bearcats ended up scoring the game's final eight points against the NCOE reserves to make the contest look a bit closer.

NCOE ended up a respectable 20-of-46 overall (43.4 percent) but just 7-of-22 from outside the arc.

Galatia's totals were 16-of-50 overall, 4-of-25 from long range.

The Fighting Cardinals, with Melton leading the way, out boarded the Bearcats 34-28.

NCOE was much better handling the ball, committing just eight turnovers, with four of them coming late after the outcome was decided.

Galatia ended up with 15 turnovers.

Coach Tucker's club must now prepare for the semifinal game against Pope County on Friday night at 8:30 pm.

The Pirates beat the Cardinals 49-38 at Norris City back on January 14, handing NCOE its only league defeat.

Pope County took care of Carrier Mills in the other Monday night quarterfinal.

Coach Wallace and his Bearcats will tangle with Carrier Mills on Thursday night in the consolation semifinals.

“When he (Melton) is playing well defensively like he did tonight it lets our guards can really get out on defense and add some pressure knowing that he is in there defending,” said Coach Tucker.

Game Two
Galatia (3-17)
Norris City-Omaha-Enfield (14-6)

Galatia (39) – Hankins 3 2 0-0 12, Hale 0 1 0-0 3, Carlile 2 0 2-4 6, Murphy 2 0 0-2 4, Wright 5 1 1-2 14, Lawrence 0 0 0-0 0. 2FG-12, 3FG-4, FT-3-8, PF-13.
Norris City-Omaha-Enfield (52) – Tucker 0 0 0-2 0, Long 1 1 2-3 7, Rister 0 0 0-1 0, Brown 0 1 2-2 5, Money 3 0 0-0 6, Richardson 1 2 0-0 7, Rush 0 0 0-0 0, Simmons 4 0 0-2 8, Hortin 0 0 0-0 0, Richerson 0 0 0-0 0, Melton 7 0 5-6 19, Lane 0 0 0-0 0. 2FG-16, 3FG-3, FT-9-16, PF-12.
Fouled Out – None.
Technical Fouls – None.

After playing a really good first half, Coach Keil Peebles had his Wildcats down just 35-28 heading into the break.

However the Pirates dominated the second half to advance to the semifinals by outscoring CM 34-16 to close out the game.

Coach Jim Simmons saw his club struggle early, trailing 17-13 at the end of the first quarter but Pope County outscored the 'Cats in each of the last three periods of play.

The Pirates are now 13-7 overall as they advanced to the semifinals behind 19 points from 5-foot-11 senior Jackson Eddington.

Junior Braxton Mitchell added 18 points while the Pirates also got 11 points apiece from junior Jayden Smith and sophomore Logan Croley.

Eddington (3), Mitchell (4) and Croley (3) combined to net 10 3-pointers.

Senior Jordan Ellis tossed in six points while Pope County got two points each from junior Deakin Lindgren and senior Nick Horton.

Senior guard Colton Betz topped Coach Peebles' club with 18 points.

Carrier Mills also got 10 points each from sophomore Colton Mitchell and junior Reilly Ward.

Pope County hit 29 total field goals compared to just 12 for the Wildcats.

Carrier Mills-Stonefort got to the foul line much more often, hitting 14-of-20.

The Wildcats will play Galatia Thursday night in the consolation bracket semifinals at 8:00 pm.

Game One
Carrier Mills (6-13)
Pope County (13-7)

Carrier Mills (44) – Mitchell 1 2 2-4 10, Hambelton 0 0 2-3 2, Hadley 0 0 0-0 0, Choat 0 0 0-0 0, Rollins 1 0 2-3 4, Gilliam 0 0 0-0 0, B. Betz 0 0 0-0 0, C. Betz 0 4 6-6 18, Felty 0 0 0-0 0, Collins 0 0 0-0 0, Ward 4 0 2-4 10.
2FG-6, 3FG-6, FT-14-20, PF-6.

Pope County (69) – Eddington 5 3 0-0 19, Mitchell 3 4 0-0 18, Ellis 3 0 0-0 6, Wilson 0 0 0-0 0, Horton 1 0 0-0 2, Lindgren 1 0 0-0 2, Smith 5 0 1-2 11, Croley 1 3 0-0 11.
2FG-19, 3FG-10, FT-1-2, PF-14..

Fouled Out – None.
Technical Fouls – None.