CLINTON — Three days after the death of his grandfather, Carl Puckett, 77, Beau Branyan stepped to the free-throw line with a chance to seal a St. Teresa win.
With 50 seconds left, and his right eye clad in black and blue after taking an elbow Friday night, Branyan hit both ends of a one-and-one to give the Bulldogs an eight-point lead on the way to a 55-44 Central Illinois Conference win against Clinton on Tuesday.
"Just get the game in the bag and keep moving forward," Branyan said of his thoughts after his free throws.
After sinking his second free throw, Branyan checked out, and approached the bench with an ear-to-ear smile before he was greeted by assistant coach Homer O'Field with a high-five and pats on the back.
"His family has had a long week, a difficult week," St. Teresa coach Tom Noonan said. "His grandfather, everybody I've talked to just raves about what type of a man he is, what type of a man he was, and I think that's a lot of Beau's character.
"We've been praying for his family. We missed him on Saturday, but he did a really good job of coming through today. He made some adjustments out there and played one of his better ball games of the year."
Branyan finished with 12 points and six rebounds while going up against Clinton (9-7, 1-2) big man Seth Westfall.
Both are among the biggest post players in the Central Illinois Conference — Branyan at 6-foot-3 and Westfall at 6-foot-6. Westfall dominated the first half, posting 12 points and 7 rebounds to give Clinton a 26-22 lead at the break.
Westfall finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
But St. Teresa (13-4, 3-0) came out of halftime with a ramped-up defense that forced a turnover on the first three Clinton possessions, allowing the Bulldogs to get baskets in transition.
"We knew they would come out and pressure harder," Clinton coach Clay Haurberg said. "We anticipated some serious pressure to start the half because I knew they would want to try to set the tone. We got a little cautious with the basketball, honestly. They really fanned out and put ball pressure on and we were hesitant to make decisions, I think out of the fear we would make mistakes. Then we made three turnovers to start the third quarter."
It wasn't just the St. Teresa defense that sparked an 18-10 Bulldog advantage in the third quarter. Senior Isaiah Bond scored eight of his 25 points in the third quarter, primarily by attacking the rim and finishing with crafty layups.
"We had to free up space for our drivers to get north-south," Noonan said of the halftime adjustment. "Isaiah is so good when he gets north-south, Manny (Green) had a huge 3 up top. Cayden, we really worked his guy on the baseline. It gave Tyler Phillips and Beau an opportunity to rebound and go to work."
Clinton pulled to a tie at 40-all with 6:01 left in the game after a Westfall layup.
Then St. Teresa strung together a 6-0 run behind a layup from Michael Less, a putback from Branyan and a layup from Bond.
"The big thing was when Bond was getting to the backboard, which he didn't do a whole lot in the first half, when we did slide over to help our second rotation was a little slow and Beau and Michael Less were able to exploit us on some drop offs and putbacks on some misses," Haurberg said. "We lost our rebounding advantage in that half."