SHELBYVILLE – JaColby Boston played like he had a sweet tooth.
“See, we got this thing that if we get three defensive stops, you get a Starburst,” the St. Teresa junior said with a big smile. “So, we were trying to get them Starbursts.”
It's only a matter of time before Boston gets that candy, if he hasn't already. He scored 17 points and was the tougher of two bigs in a matchup with Meridian's Judah Renfro.
Boston helped St. Teresa reach the Central Illinois Conference tournament championship game with a 53-43 win on Tuesday. The Bulldogs, the tournament's No. 2 seed, will play top-seeded Warrensburg Latham (21-0), the No. 4-ranked team in Class 2A.
“He played like he has something to prove,” St. Teresa coach Tom Noonan said of Boston. “That's what JaColby does for us. That's what he does night in and night out.”
The biggest difference was his point total. He scored 11 in the second half, helping the Bulldogs hold off numerous Meridian comeback attempts. The Hawks never came closer than four.
They had the Bulldogs' lead down to four in the last minute of the third quarter, but Ray Smith was on the scoring end of a fastbreak layup as the buzzer sounded.
Smith's were a big two points considering Renfro started the fourth quarter with a layup right away. He was fouled but couldn't convert the extra free throw which would've taken the lead down to three.
Then, for much of the last eight minutes, Meridian couldn't get out of its own way. The Hawks committed six of their 17 total turnovers during the fourth quarter.
“When we chipped it down to five or six, we'd come down the next offensive possession and do a silly jump pass or we weren't smart with the ball,” Renfro said.
Drake Baker had a look at a 3-pointer in the last couple minutes of the game that would've cut St. Teresa's lead to three points, but he missed all nine shots he attempted.
Warrensburg-Latham 64, Shelbyville 38
AJ Duff delivered one of his best performances of the season – 12 points, nine rebounds – in helping the Cardinals forge ahead from a 10-point halftime lead.
“That's what we need from him,” Warrensburg coach Vic Binkley said. “We'd like to see AJ get 10 rebounds (for a double-double), but it was good we got a lot of people involved.”
The Cardinals had four players reach double figures – Duff, Tyler Bond (14 points), Garrett Shea (13) and Weston Nottelmann (11) – and they blew the game open during the last 12 minutes.
“Halfway through the third, it was still a game,” Binkley said. “We didn't come with a lot of focus. You know exactly what they were thinking, you know, we beat them by 40 last time … but it don't work that way. It's a different night and a different game.”
It was on the Rams' home floor, but they couldn't stop the Cardinals' unbeaten streak.
“I think our press. We put more pressure on the ball and that gave them some problems,” Binkley said. “We moved that press back and put more pressure on the passer.”
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Renfro scored 15 for Meridian, a hard-earned total.
Many of the Hawks' 17 turnovers came after a St. Teresa defender got a hand on a pass attempt into the paint. The Bulldogs were closing all the passing lanes.
“I thought our guards did a really good job with angles tonight,” Noonan said. “We've been emphasizing in practice trying to take away the elbows because any offense, if they can get to the elbows in the high post, they're pretty dangerous.”
The backline, led by Boston, work hard against Renfro, too. Boston succeeded in finding a way to make up for his lack of Renfro's size.
“You gotta be quicker with everything you do,” Boston said. He said he could tell it was working. “Oh yeah – he was talking a little bit.”
Noah Adams was out with an illness and didn't make the trip with Meridian, which really hampered the Hawks' chances of challenging St. Teresa in the post.
Hayden Damery started in Adams' place, meaning the Hawks had to replace a 6-foot-5 forward with one who's 6-foot-1. Adams and Renfro are matching 6-foot-5 bigs.
“It's rough,” said Renfro, who played all 32 minutes. “We practice with different sets of groups, but it's just not the same in the game. It's just hard playing without one of your key players.
“I get worn out … really worn out.”
Warrensburg and St. Teresa are used to playing with silverware at stake.
With their results Tuesday, they setup a rematch of the Macon County boys championship game – a 47-40 win for the Cardinals on Dec. 11.
Back then, the Bulldogs were neck-and-neck with the Cardinals before unraveling in the third quarter. Now, Noonan's confident he has an improved team.
“I didn't think we were quite ready,” Noonan said. “But I think we played three really good quarters against them, and hopefully we've grown enough right now.”
The CIC championship game will be play at approximately 7:30 p.m. Friday in Shelbyville. It follows the third-place game between Meridian and Shelbyville.