By Lenny Sementi
Tuscola’s boys basketball team did everything right last Friday night but came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard falling to Meridian in St Anthony Sectional championship 82-79 on a three quarter court buzzer beater. It was a shot heard round the country showing up second on ESPN’s top ten plays from Friday evening, ripping a super-sectional berth away from coach Justin Bozarth and his Warriors.
You always hear people say “no one should have lost that game’ well that could have been said about any of the games in the trilogy with the Hawks in the last month. The two teams traded runs, rallies, and momentum swings throughout the win or go home skirmish. Jalen Quinn led all with a herculean effort that included 37 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. Next in line with a career night was his younger brother Jordan who donated 17 points to the cause on an eight for 14 effort from the field.
Meridian ran out to a quick 9-0 lead hitting threes on their first three possessions before Preston Brown broke the ice for Tuscola on a put-back two minutes into the game. Quinn followed with a rare four-point play drilling a three and the ensuing free throw after being fouled on the arc. Colton Musgrave hit a runner, and then Jordan and Jalen found the bottom of the net and before you knew it the two squads were knotted at 13’s. The Warriors opened the second frame with a James Parsley three fueling a seven-point to take their first lead of the ball game 18-16. A pair of late threes by the Hawks catapulted Meridian into the break on top by five 28-23.
Quinn took over in the third 13 points on a three ball, four buckets and two at the charity stripe. Enter Easton Cunningham the junior shooting guard stepped outside the arc twice late in the third before Quinn took a rebound coast to coast prior to the buzzer putting the Warriors in front 46-44 heading into the final eight minutes of action or in this case 18 minutes of action after adding on two five minute overtime periods.
Yep for the second time this season the two best in the Central Illinois Conference gave the crowd free basketball. Cunningham was huge late hitting the boards hard garnering five big rebounds late in the contest while also swiping a pair of steals. Both teams played shorthanded late with players fouling out in the back and forth escapade. Tuscola found its way to five point advantages in both overtimes under a minute to play but the Hawks refused to go away. Meridian hit a deep three to tie it after the first and the sixty-five foot ESPN-worthy salvo to win it off and inbound with 2.6 seconds left on the clock. Sandwiched in between were big plays by Cunningham, Josiah Hortin and both Quinn’s.
Cunningham ended his evening with eight points, including the two trey’s on three of five from the field. Hortin was next, delivering six points connecting on four of six from the line. Then came Musgrave with five points while Parsley contributed four points.
“It’s just an absolutely brutal way to go out,” commented Bozarth following the game. “We had a couple five point leads late in regulation and the overtimes that we just couldn’t close out. Meridian made some unbelievable shots to push it to overtime as well as the second overtime, then of course, they made another big shot to ultimately win the game. It’s devastating and frustrating because we were right there. It just ultimately didn’t work out in our favor. We are incredibly proud of our kids for continuing to elevate our program. It was an amazing atmosphere.”