Hardin County, Crab Orchard post victories
Cougars cruise past NCOE; Trojans edge Galatia

HARRISBURG – In their rally for a victory on Tuesday night, the Hardin County Cougars made two major adjustments in the second half of their game against Norris City-Omaha-Enfield that got them a victory and a spot in the semifinals on Friday night.

Head coach Rodney Lane saw his team fall behind early in the game because the Fighting Cardinals came out firing away from the 3-point arc and led the entire first half, with the scoreboard reading 28-25 at the break.

NCOE hit eight 3-pointers in the first 16 minutes.

First off in the second half, the Cougars were much better defensively as they forced NCOE into more contested shots from the outside.

Secondly, the Cougars did a better job of getting the ball inside to get easier shots.

Both of those changes paid off.

Hardin County hit 20-of-27 shots inside the arc as they got 18-points from 6-foot-5 senior Jamison Hicks and 16-points from 5-foot-11 junior guard Jaron Austin as Hardin County rallied for a 58-47 victory to join Crab Orchard, Gallatin County and Thompsonville in the semifinals.

“We didn't play very well on either end of the floor in the first half. But they worked hard defensively and that is what won the game for us tonight,” said Coach Lane. “We dug in and played defense in the second half.”

Austin hit a pair of 3-pointers early for the Cougars but he also got inside for points as Coach Lane's club got the looks that they wanted offensively, especially in the second half, and the defensive stops in the second half when they needed them.

Hardin County also got contributions from senior Hunter Cullum and junior Gabe Fowler, as they each added eight-points to the offense.

Coach Evan Wyllie's squad came out firing away from the 3-point line and they took an early advantage by connecting on 8-of-17 long range shots in the first half.

Senior guard Evan Healy and freshman guard Jack Riggs each hit five 3-point shots in the game with Healy ending up with 17-points while Riggs netted 18.

“In the first half we moved the ball great and got the kick outs to the perimeter and Riggs hit four 3's in the first quarter for us. We live and die by it (3-pointers),” said Coach Wyllie. “It is our strength and when are not making them its not great. We are still trying to put together four quarters of good play and we have had a tough time doing it.”

The problem for the Cardinals in the second half was that Cougars made things much tougher.

NCOE, after the hot start, finished just 11-of-34 from the arc and 16-of-44 overall for the contest (36.3 percent) as they saw their record slip to 3-12 on the season.

The 6-8 Cougars, who began the season 0-5 at the Goreville Invitational Tournament, are in the title hunt as they will face Crab Orchard on Friday night.

The winner will move into the championship game on Saturday night.

The story of the first quarter was Riggs for NCOE.

After Healy hit the first long range shot to open up the scoring, Riggs added a pair of 3-pointers that gave the Cardinals an early 9-2 lead.

Riggs added two more bombs in the first stanza, with the final one from the top of the circle pushing the score to 15-8.

But Hicks was starting to get open on the inside for Hardin County as he scored a pair of shots in the lane as the Cougars were down just five at the first horn.

NCOE was on a verge of pulling away for an upset in the second quarter, as they got a steal and a fast break lay in by sophomore Trey Simmons and consecutive 3-pointers from Healy and junior forward Brandon Skaggs.

The Skaggs' score gave the Fighting Cardinals their largest lead at 24-13 with 4:52 left in the second quarter.

However Hardin County kept getting the ball where they needed to, with Austin hitting two long distance shots and Hicks scoring twice in the post.

The final two scores were from Hick as the half closed with the Cougars down just three-points.

“Jaron (Austin) kept us in the game in the first half. He hit a couple of big shots for us,” said Coach Lane

The Cougars attack got them their first lead of the game in the third quarter with Cullum scoring twice on a drive to the basket and then a 3-pointer from the right wing for a 31-30 lead.

“We turned the ball over in the second half and we talked about things (at halftime) that are open within our offense we couldn't make the pass in the second half,” said Coach Wyllie. “Give Hardin County credit, they applied some pressure and it (handling the pressure) is something that we are trying to get better at.”Hardin County took control at the end of the quarter and the beginning of the fourth, breaking a 35-35 tie with a 16-1 run.

Austin grabbed an offensive rebound a drove to the goal for a score to start the scoring spree.

Hicks hit a shot in his normal spot close to the basket and then the 6-foot-5 forward made a nice assist to 6-foot-3 junior Conrad Cowsert, who scored just before the buzzer for a 41-35 lead heading to the final quarter.

Cowsert scored six-points for the Cougars in the game and his buzzer beater kept the momentum going.

Coach Lane saw his team pull away as they would get the ball inside to Hicks again to open the quarter and then Fowler made a huge defensive play that forced an NCOE timeout.

He made a steal and went the length of the floor for a lay in while being fouled by Skaggs.

His made free throw made it 46-36 with just 3:36 left.

Reserve freshman guard Johnny Johnson scored on nice assist from Austin and then Cullum (1-of-2) and Hicks (2-of-2) hit free throws to close the run and the drama as the Cougars cruised home with the win.

While Hardin County was on its run, on the other end of the floor the Cardinals once hot hand from the outside had cooled off considerably.

Coach Wyllie's crew missed their first seven shots from the arc in the fourth quarter and ended up just 2-of-12 in the frame.

The Cardinals would get no closer than the final margin as they fell into the consolation bracket game on Thursday night against Galatia, who lost to Crab Orchard in the first semifinal on Tuesday.

The Cougars finished up 23-of-40 overall (57.5 percent) and held a commanding 27-15 rebounding edge, which kept NCOE from getting many second chances as they surrendered just four offensive rebounds to the Cards.

“We were pressing (on offense) a little bit because we were down but we have to refocus on Galatia and see if we can get better,” said Coach Wyllie.

Norris City-Omaha-Enfield
Hardin County
Norris City-Omaha-Enfield (47) – Healy 1 5 0-0 17, Riggs 1 5 1-2 18, Skaggs 1 1 0-0 3, Richardson 0 0 0-0 0, Barton 0 0 0-0 0, Simmons 1 0 2-5 4, O'Neal 1 0 0-2 2, Baumgart 0 0 1-2 1.
2FG-5, 3FG-11, FT-4-11, PF-13.

Hardin County (58) – Cullum 2 1 1-2 8, Hicks 7 0 4-6 18, Austin 4 2 2-2 16, Fowler 3 0 2-3 8, Cowsert 3 0 0-0 6, Johnson 1 0 0-0 2, Smock 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-20, 3FG-3, FT-9-13, PF-9.

Fouled Out – None.
Technical Fouls – None.
The Bearcats could smell the upset brewing as they jumped out to an early lead and expanded the advantage to 37-21 with 2:29 left in the second quarter.

Everything was going well for Coach Rod Wallace and his club that hadn't played a game in two weeks because of the weather issues in southern Illinois.

But they showed no signs of rust in the early going and they appeared headed to the half with a double-digit lead.

However the Trojans rallied in the final two minutes of the half with a 7-0 run and then outscored Galatia 22-8 in the third quarter to take back the lead.

Coach Jon Brown's troops held off Galatia in the final quarter for the win and berth in the tournament semifinals on Friday night.

The Trojans were led by senior Levi Vinson with 18-points and sophomore Hunter Throgmorton with 17.

Senior Cameron Stephens tossed in 12-points and Quentin Meyers added 11.

Sophomore Tony Lakotich added nine-points for the Trojans as they improved to 12-5 on the season as they will play Hardin County on Friday night at 7 pm.

Galatia is now 7-11 on the season with the loss and they will play NCOE on Thursday night at 6:30 pm.

Senior guard Austin Stephens led the Bearcats with 20-points while senior teammate Will Pulliam added 17.

Senior forward Ben Mitchell added 11-points for the Bearcats, who jumped out to an early advantage with all three of the seniors scoring points early along with sophomore A.J. Hankins also adding points.

Hankins finished with eight-points but his 3-pointer early gave Galatia an 8-4 lead.

A 9-2 run to close the quarter had Galatia in front 23-15 with Stephens and Mitchell scoring.

With Stephens, Mitchell and 6-foot-6 senior Austin Pritchett scoring in yet another run, Galatia got to its 16-point lead.

Hankins closed the run with his second of two first half 3-point bombs.

The Trojans struggled in the first half, hitting just 10-of-27 shots overall.

However the ball started to drop for Coach Brown's bunch as they bombed away in the second half, hitting 5-of 11 from the arc in the final 16-minutes.

Crab Orchard took the lead for good with a 13-2 sprint to the end of the third.

Vinson started the run with back-to-back drives to the basket and then a 3-pointer from Throgmorton and a steal and lay in by Lakotich gave the Trojans a 50-45 lead heading to the final frame.

The Trojans got the lead up to double-digits on a 3-pointer from Lakotich to make it 62-51 with 4:01 left.

Galatia put in a late rally that fell short.

Crab Orchard hit just enough free throws (5-of-8) in the final minutes to preserve the comeback triumph.

The tale of the tape took a lot of ink but there was one glaring stat that turned the Trojans into winners on this night.

Both teams combined to launch 129 field goal attempts, that is just a shade over four shots per minute.

The Trojans were 26-of-67 overall and 8-of-24 from the arc while the Bearcats ended up 25-of-62 from the floor with 4-of-18 from the 3-point line.

Galatia controlled the boards, with a 44-27 spread. However the key statistic that doomed the Bearcats was turnovers.

Coach Wallace's club committed 18-turnovers compared to just four for the Trojans.

Crab Orchard
Galatia (63) – Stevens 5 2 4-6 20, Mitchell 5 0 1-4 11, Pulliam 8 0 1-2 17, Lane 2 0 0-0 4, Hankins 0 2 2-2 8, Pritchett 1 0 1-2 3.
2FG-21, 3FG-4, FT-9-16, PF-14.

Crab Orchard (69) – Throgmorton 2 3 4-4 17, Stephens 3 2 0-2 12, Meyers 4 0 3-7 11, Peek 1 0 0-0 2, Lakotich 1 2 1-2 9, Tiberio
2FG-18, 3FG-8, FT-9-16, PF-15.

Fouled Out – None.

Technical Fouls – None.