CARBONDALE — Central A&M was building momentum.
The Raiders rallied from a 14-point deficit midway through the second quarter and trimmed the Goreville lead to five with 2:03 left before halftime using stingy defense from Jameson Smith and the Paradee brothers, Tate and Jacob.
But Goreville closed the first half of Tuesday's Class 1A Carbondale (SIU) Super-sectional on a 7-2 run to take a 10-point lead into halftime on the way to a 74-61 win to advance to the IHSA boys state basketball tournament for the first time in school history.
The Blackcats closed the half with four free throws and hit 29 of 41 for the game in a foul-infested contest.
The teams combined to shoot 48 of 70 from the free throw line and committed 52 fouls.
“Hats off to them," Central A&M coach Rob Smith said. "They did it and we didn’t. But (52) fouls in 32 minutes of play, in my mind, that’s not high school basketball."
The Raiders (22-9) never got closer than nine points in the second half, but stayed within an arm's length for the majority of the fourth quarter.
“There was no flow to the game. At all," Smith said. "Whenever you call (52) fouls in a super-sectional game, you kind of take the flow away from both teams."
Jameson Smith (three steals) and the Paradees were frantic defensively in the final few minutes of the first half as the Raiders attempted their comeback.
“We were pressing in the first half and Jacob, Tate and Jameson were doing a good job at the top of the zone," A&M sophomore Connor Heaton said. "That got us going a lot and they got a bunch of steals. That’s when we started making shots and coming together. We just couldn’t get over the hump."
Heaton and Jacob Paradee were the lone Raiders in double figures. Paradee led A&M with 23 points and five assists, and Heaton had 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Peyton Massey led Goreville with 19 points, Tanner Dunn added 16 and Braden Webb had 14.
The Raiders, who lit up their home sectional with 3-pointers, shot 2 of 14 in SIU Arena.
Rob Smith said the bigger venue didn't play a factor in the shooting.
“We had some (3s), but we told them, ‘Hey, if they’re going to call fouls, just go to the rack, because they’re going to call those every time on everybody,'" Smith said. "We adjusted and said, ‘Take advantage of it and go to the rack, too.’
"That was a game plan thing more than anything. Plus, they face guarded a couple of our shooters. That opened up the lane for driving, actually. That was more of a response for how they were defending us."
One of the shooters circled on Goreville head coach Todd Tripp's scouting report was A&M senior Jameson Smith.
Smith made more than 80 3-pointers this year, and Tripp made it a point to know where he was at on the court at all times.
“We tried to dig whatever we can," Tripp said of scouting A&M. "We knew that Smith made 80-something 3s and we’re like, ‘Don’t let him shoot.’ It wasn’t a mystery to what you have to do when you start hearing some numbers from these kids and what they can do. We had somebody scouting who came back with a good scouting report."
Bright future, painful present
It's no secret that this postseason run has officially put A&M on the map for as long as the sophomore core of Heaton, Griffin Andricks (2 points, 4 rebounds) and Jacob Paradee are around.
Teams will be hard-pressed to match those three and a strong group of reserves.
But that doesn't mean Tuesday didn't sting.
“I’m just worried about the four seniors who don’t get to put the uniform at all," Rob Smith said of the future. "I’m not thinking about that at all right now, to be quite honest with you. Those kids aren’t thinking about it either, because their buddies are hurting.
"They’re all hurting. The kids who never get to put those uniforms on again. Those sophomores, their only thought, I guarantee you, is those kids."
Driving to the lane
Heaton and Jacob Paradee carved up the Goreville defense using a series of ball screens to drive to the basket.
After Rob Smith instructed his players to play to the fouls, the lane came open, but it was too late.
“We were able to get the ball to the basket because they don’t have a real rim protector," Rob Smith said of his team. "That was a successful part of it. We could have done some things better, but we’re not going to nitpick. Our kids gave it all."