By Race Archibald
In the third matchup between Apollo Conference foes, it was Mt. Zion who came out victorious in a 68-45 win over Charleston in the Class 3A regional tournament in Mattoon.
The Braves (7-25) will advance to play top-seeded Springfield Lanphier (22-9) in the regional semifinal Tuesday night.
Mt. Zion lost its previous two matchups with Charleston. But with strong interior play from forwards Drew London and Nash Mose, the Braves were able to perform with the season on the line.
“It’s hard to beat someone three times,” Mt. Zion coach Dale Schuring said. “I think it’s a disadvantage for the team that’s won the first two games.”
London scored a game-high 20 points, and made his presence felt early with eight points in the paint in the first quarter.
Mt. Zion held a 29-24 lead at halftime before opening up the game and outscoring the Trojans 20-8 in the third quarter.
“We talked about three things: quit fouling and putting them at the line, doing a better job of getting back in transition, and stopping their dribble penetration,” Schuring said. “For the most part, we did those things.”
It was more of the same in the second half where the Braves were able to grab offensive rebounds and get close looks at the basket.
Charleston guard Luke Bell came off the bench and made two 3-pointers in the third quarter to cut the lead to 38-30, but the Trojans were unable to create anymore offense in the quarter.
With every rebound and putback attempt, the Mt. Zion bench erupted with cheers, feeling they were going to pull off the upset win.
In the prelude to this matchup, Charleston coach Brad Oakley talked about the importance of getting ahead of Mt. Zion early to negate any confidence they would have in winning.
Charleston’s zone defense held up for most of the first half, but Mt. Zion grabbed numerous offensive rebounds for scores. All of the Braves’ first-quarter points came from inside.
Caleb Hurst was the only Trojan in double figures with 13 points.
Charleston’s season ends at 12-17, 3-9 in Apollo Conference play.
CHARLESTON: Hurst 5 0-0 13, Bell 3 0-0 9, Bickford 3 3-4 9, Landrus 2 3-7 7, Braun 1 0-2 3, Miller 1 0-0 2, Harrell 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 6-13 45. 3-pointers – Hurst 3, Bell 3, Braun 1.