By Lenny Sementi
Tuscola’s boys basketball team ran off fifteen straight wins to start the season before stumbling in a state ranked showdown with a very good Central A&M squad this past Tuesday the 21st. The class 1A second ranked Raiders pulled away late capturing the top spot in the Central Illinois Conference upending class 2A tenth ranked Warriors 61-39.
Head coach Justin Bozarth’s squad didn’t dwell long on the loss and got back to their winning ways a few nights later on Friday dropping Warrensburg-Latham 59-48 thanks to a twelve-point fourth quarter by Jalen Quinn. The super soph accounted for twenty-nine points in the victory hitting nine of thirteen from the field and ten of twelve from the free-throw line. Jacob Kibler turned in a strong offensive outing as well scoring in every frame adding twelve points to the team totals. Both players notched a double-double in the victory with Quinn grabbing thirteen rebounds while Kibler secured ten as the Warriors posted a plus ten advantage in the stat line.
Tuscola jumped out to a five-point lead after one 17-12. Kibler and Quinn attacked the middle early opening up the arc for Cole Cunningham and Grant Hardwick. The two shooting guards each stepped outside the arc for a three late in the quarter. Hardwick ended the night with seven points to his credit. Both teams reached the double-digit plateau in the second but a six-point effort from Quinn led to a 30-22 Warrior lead at the break.
Warrensburg fired back when the two teams returned to the floor cutting the lead to two 41-39 heading to the fourth despite a big three by Nick Williams and a bucket down low by Donovan Chester late in the stanza. Hardwick hit his second long ball of the night to open the final eight minutes of action and Quinn hit one of his own as Tuscola’s defense fueled the offense. The Warriors applied pressure early limiting the Cardinals to single digits in the fourth allowing Quinn to work his magic in transition while also finding his way to the free throw line. He sealed the deal at the line on number sixteen of the year with a seven for eight effort from the charity stripe in the last six minutes of the game ending a month long road trip for the Warriors.
“Its tough to win on the road and we are very pleased to get out of Warrensburg with a double-digit victory,” stated the coach. “They are a scrappy bunch and it’s always a tough place to play. We were able to get comfortable in the fourth quarter putting together consecutive defensive stops that led to lay up opportunities. Jalen (Quinn) and Jacob (Kibler) had huge games for us on offense.”
Cunningham got the ball rolling in the loss to A&M with a three to open the contest. Kibler followed with a big basket in the paint putting the Warriors in front 5-0 as Bozarth’s bunch held the home team scoreless until the 5:30 mark of the frame. Once the ice was broken the Raiders responded with a 17-4 run that included a pair of threes taking 17-9 lead at the first buzzer.
Chester brought the Warrior faithful to their feet with a three early in the second and Nick Williams hit another trey a minute later as the two teams traded points the entire period. Ben Dixon joined Tuscola’s party at the arc tickling the bottom of the net from deep late in the half keeping the Warriors within striking distance down 30-21 heading to the locker rooms.
Quinn came out firing early in the third draining a three of his own and then followed it up with a short jumper before finding Kibler down low as the Warriors ran off six of the first eight points of the half cutting the lead to six 34-28. A&M fired back with an eight-point run and backed it up with a pair of threes late in the third and never looked back pulling away in the final stanza. Dixon hit his second three in the fourth but it was the only field goal of the period for the boys in black ending Tuscola’s win streak at fifteen.
“Overall we didn’t feel like we played a great game but A&M had a lot to do with that,” commented Bozarth. “Simply put we ran into a really good team at their place and had some self inflicted errors and against them there isn’t much room for error. If we get another shot at them we will emphasize our box outs on both ends of the floor and will need to be more on point at the free throw line.’
Quinn led the Warriors with thirteen points hitting six of eight from the free throw line. Kibler was next on the score sheet tallying eight points while grabbing a team-best eight rebounds. Dixon and Cunningham each notched a pair of threes en-route to six points each.