TOLONO — The march of the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School basketball team toward a hoped for first sectional title continued on Wednesday with a 50-30 victory over Tuscola in a Class 2A Tolono Unity Sectional semifinal.
The Falcons flexed the muscles that served them so well during a state championship football campaign, outrebounding Tuscola, 39-29, and forcing 17 turnovers. All that made shooting a modest .318 from the field a non-issue.
“There are going to be nights when shots aren’t falling,” said GCMS coach Ryan Tompkins. “You can always play defense. You can always rebound the ball.”
The rebounding part was especially true for Minnesota State recruit Ryland Holt, who grabbed 17 boards to go with 13 points and five blocks. Teammate Bryce Barnes added 10 points and seven boards while Connor Birky had eight points and six rebounds.
With their 29th consecutive victory, the No. 3-state ranked Falcons improved to 30-2 ahead of Friday’s 7 p.m. final against No. 6 Central Catholic (25-7). Tuscola, which also lost a 63-45 contest to GCMS on Dec. 27, bowed out at 20-11 despite 18 points and 12 rebounds from Jalen Quinn.
The Falcons, who won a pre-consolidation sectional as Gibson City in 1980, trailed 9-8 in the first quarter when two Birky free throws sparked a 6-0 run that put GCMS ahead to stay.
The Falcons limited Tuscola to four points in the second quarter to take a 22-13 halftime lead. Cool shooting (9 of 28 for 32.1 percent) kept GCMS from a more comfortable advantage. The Warriors committed nine of their turnovers the first half.
“Not only do they have size, they have unreal athleticism, just an athleticism that you don’t see in small-school basketball all the time,” said Tuscola coach Justin Bozarth.
“Everybody knows Barnes is built like a brick wall and Holt can jump like nobody around, but it’s the other guards that don’t get the credit for how laterally quick they are and how sneaky athletic they are. Those are the guys that complement the horses.”
The GCMS defense remained smothering the second half as the Warriors only scored back-to-back baskets on one occasion to get within 33-19 with 2:39 left in the third period. The Falcons often double-teamed Tuscola center Braydon VonLanken while holding him to eight points.
“Coach said his favorite move was an up-and-under,” Barnes said. “I just had to stay on my feet. I knew I had backside help. I knew if I got beat, I had a shot blocker behind me.”
The 6-foot-5 Holt kept a capacity crowd entertained with two dunks. The second jam came off a steal. When asked if his fans would boo if he didn’t dunk in such a situation, Holt said, “I think I might get some crap for that at school the next day for sure.”
The Falcons made attacking the middle a point of emphasis.
“We feel like if we can get into the paint, we can create open shots for our shooters,” said Holt, who downplayed his rebound total as merely cleaning up his own missed shots as he finished 6 of 20 from the field.
If the 14-0 football season and this basketball campaign is burning out the Falcons, it doesn’t show.
“We embrace the grind and we’re ready for it,” said Barnes, who seems to feed off applause. “Our crowd is probably the best traveling crowd in the state of Illinois. It doesn’t matter how far it is, they are coming to support us. We love that as players.”
As for Friday’s final against Central Catholic, Barnes has high hopes.
“We’re not scared of anyone,” he said. “They’re a great team. We’re a great team. It’s going to be one heck of a matchup.”