By Mike Monahan

CHARLESTON – It was a game of runs Saturday at Baker gym, where Charleston beat Taylorville 76-69 in an Apollo Conference boys basketball game. 

Charleston took a 10-point first quarter lead at 23-13 and capped off the night with a run in the fourth quarter that helped the Trojans to hold on for their first victory of the season – and the first at CHS for new head coach A.J. Alexander.

“It is awesome to have four guys in double-figures in Luke Bonnstetter, Caleb Oakley, Tyler Oakley and James Hess,” said Charleston coach A. J. Alexander. “I am extremely excited for those guys to get those buckets.”

Alexander had hoped for a fast start after struggling to score against Mt. Zion. 

“That was big time,” said Alexander. “We were definitely looking for a way to get our offense going again, especially coming off the Mount Zion game where we only scored 37 points. I was like, ‘Hey, we have to get our offense moving on every cylinder.’ It was fantastic seeing us come out with a spark.”

Charleston took a 26-13 lead on a 3-pointer by Bonnstetter in the second quarter. Taylorville, though, rallied to within seven starting with a steal and layup by sophomore Drake Howard, who led all players with 25 points.

The Trojans answered with a 13-3 run for the largest lead of the game, 40-23 on a three-point play by James Hess with 3:21 left pin the half. CHS sank 13 of 18 shots in a span of 10 minutes, 4 seconds. 

“You have to play all the way through,” said Caleb Oakley, who scored 21 points. “You can’t assume it is over because they kept coming back. They kept coming hard at us on defense and they were not going to go away easily.”

Taylorville cut the deficit to 45-36 in the final minutes of the half. 

“We were lethargic to start the game,” said Taylorville coach Ryan Brown. 

Both team shot well in the first half – a combined 28-of-53 (.528), including 13-of-23 (.565) from 3-point range. 

“At halftime, we (coaches) told the guys once you have the lead you have to hold on to the lead with every thing you have,” said Alexander. “That comes from playing tough defense and taking care of the ball. One of the things we tell the guys is ‘Hey, when you have the lead, you are in the driver’s seat.’ You don’t have to rush anything.’”

Caleb Oakley made his third straight 3-pointer with 2:52 left in the third quarter to push the Trojans in front 58-42. He made four of six 3s overall.

Taylorville soon made another run, cutting its deficit to 61-55 with 6:28 left in the game – and the Tornadoes had a chance to make it a one possession game, but missed a 3-pointer. 

Charleston, which faced a 1-2-2 zone press most of the second half, made its final run, scoring eight points in a row.

A basket by freshman Tyler Oakley, who came off the bench to score 12 points, put CHS ahead 69-55.

The Trojans led by 11 with 1:57 left when the Tornadoes made a final run to move within 72-69 with 29.5 seconds left. 

But CHS played good defense and scored the final four points. Bonnstetter made two free throws with 18.4 seconds left and Hess scored a basket in the final seconds to secure the win.

“You have to play all the way through,” said Caleb Oakley. “You can’t assume it is over because they kept coming back. They kept coming hard at us on defense and they were not going to go away easily.”

Said Alexander: “We were rushing some shots. If we get a quick shot when we are up and miss, it is as good as a turnover. One of those things you have to take care of is the rock (basketball) and value every possession, especially near the end. It was good to see  we held on to it at the end as it was a little too close for comfort with all of those turnovers there in the second half.”

The Trojans turned over the ball eight times in the third quarter and one in the fourth.

Keys to victory

• Charleston outrebounded Taylorville by a significant margin (40-21), led by Brett Spour’s nine. James Hess, a 6-foot-5 senior playing in his first game, also helped control possession near the basket. 

“Having Hess back was a big help, having a big guy down there,” said Caleb Oakley. “Just being there is a lot of help even if he is not getting a lot of numbers. Just his presence has a big effect a lot of times.”

• Plus, the Trojans shot better than they had in their opener against Mt. Zion, especially from 3-point range where they knocked down 12 from behind the arc. CHS shot .542 from the field, including an impressive 12-of-16 from 3-point range. 

“I know we have shooters,” said Alexander. “That is for sure. It is good to see us having those shots go down. The guys see them go down in practice, but didn’t see them go down Thursday. So, I think it is a huge confidence booster for a lot of guys. I keep getting on these guys and saying, ‘Hey, you get a great kick out look, you have to go nail them.’ And the guys did that.”

• Two underclassmen with only one game of varsity experience elevated their games. Sophomore Luke Bonnstetter hit four 3-pointers and scored 22 overall, while freshman Tyler Oakley scored 12, including a key shot during a decisive fourth-quarter run.

“I was pretty impressed with some inexperienced guys on how well they were able to handle the pressure in a close game toward the end,” said Caleb Oakley. “I was pretty impressed with the younger kids and how they moved the ball. For most of them, it was just their second varsity game. 

Charleston, 1-1 overall and in the conference, travels to face Mahomet-Seymour (1-3, 1-1) and Lincoln next week before returning home for a Saturday night game against Sullivan.

The Tornadoes fell to 0-6, 0-2 in the conference

Taylorville13231716 –69
Charleston23221615 –76

CHARLESTON: Spour 1 1-3 3, Bonstetter 7 4-5 22, Applegate 2 1-3 5, Hess 4 1-3 10, C. Oakley 6 5-6 21, T. Oakley 5 0-1 12, Dunklin 0 0-0 0, Sipes 1 0-0 3. Totals 26 12-21 76.

3-point goals: 12-16 (.750) 12 (Bonstetter 4, Sipes 1, T. Oakley 2, Hess 1, C. Oakley 4). Total field goals 26-48 (.542). Rebounds 40 (Spour 9). Turnovers 19. Bench points 15

TAYLORVILLE: Myles 4 1-3 9, Bitschenauer 5 0-0 14, McConnell 3 4-5 10, Odam 1 0-0 3, Howard 9 5-6 25, Turvey 0 0-0 0, Anderson 0 0-0 0, Durbin 2 2-2 8, Harker 0 0-0-0, Totals 24 12-16 69

3-point goals: 9-25 (.444), Bitschenauer 4, Durbin 2, Odam 1, Howard 2. Total field goals 24-52 (.462). Rebounds: 21 (Howard, McConnell, Odam 5). Turnovers 11. Bench points 8

Junior Varsity

Taylorville16151921 –71
Charleston11151715 –58

CHARLESTON: A. Kuykendall 8 5-6 25, Anderson 3 0-0 8, An. Kuykendall 8 0-0 23, Amarty 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 5-10 58

3-point goals: Charleston 13 (Anderson 2, An. Kukendall 5, A. Kuykendall 6)