Late heroics by Bryce Barnes lift GCMS boys basketball team to first HOIC Tournament title since 2007

BLOOMINGTON -- Bryce Barnes had one thing on his mind -- attack.
With the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley varsity boys basketball team trailing 36-34 in the final minute of Saturday's Heart of Illinois Conference Tournament championship game against El Paso-Gridley, Barnes had the ball looking for the tying basket.
"We wanted to get the ball to him," GCMS head coach Ryan Tompkins said. "He's our most experiened player. He's kind of built for moments like that, and he did a good job of seeing what the situation was ahead of him and attacking the basket strong."
Barnes drove to the basket and made a game-tying acrobatic layup while EP-G’s Silas Steiner fouled him with 15.5 seconds remaining. Barnes then completed the three-point play by making the free throw, which would be the game-winning point as the Falcons defeated the Titans 40-36.
"I knew they didn't have a big guy down there, and I knew that, if I attack, I probably get to the basket, and that's what happened," Barnes said.
With six seconds remaining, EP-G's Teron Fairchild was fouled by Ryland Holt, giving him a chance at a 1-and-1 at the charity stripe. Fairchild missed the front end, and Holt was fouled with 4.5 seconds left by Jack Weber after grabbing the defensive rebound. 
After making the front end of the 1-and-1 opportunity, Holt missed his second foul-shot attempt, but Barnes was there to grab the offensive rebound and score on the second of two putback attempts as time expired.
"I thought Ryland was going to make it, but he missed that second one. I was going hard no matter what, even if I thought it was going in," Barnes said. "I knew I had to get an offensive rebound if he missed, and it worked out my way. The ball came back to me, and then I put it back up, and game over."
Barnes, who reached the 1,000-point milestone in the semifinal win Friday over Fieldcrest, finished the game with a team-high 19 points.
"It's a great milestone. It's not what I'm settling for, though," Barnes said. "I'm trying to win a regional championship, a sectional championship -- I've got bigger goals ahead."
While regionals are less than a month away, Saturday's win helped GCMS (20-2) gain a long-awaited team accomplishment as the Falcons won their first HOIC Tournament championship since 2007. The Falcons were in the title game for the second straight year after losing 53-50 to Ridgeview last year.
"It's awesome," Barnes said. "We definitely wanted it this year, and getting the win is huge for the coach, and it's huge for the players."
The Falcons won that contest in 2007 against a Lexington team coached by Nathaniel Meiss, who now coaches EP-G.
"Two times, it had come down to the wire," Tompkins said. "He does a great job. We were fortunate enough to make a big play there in the end for Bryce."
The Titans reached the title game as the sixth seed in a 13-team conference after upsetting No. 3 Tremont and No. 2 Deer Creek-Mackinaw in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. They led the top-seeded Falcons 22-15 at halftime.
"(Meiss) had a good game plan and did a great job," Tompkins said. "He gets the most out of his guys. It was a great game between two really good games."
Noah Smith scored a basket to make the score 2-0 for EP-G. After Caleb Biech hit a 3-pointer for GCMS, Stainer and Fairchild each made a basket before Bleich drained another trey with 4:40 left in the first quarter to tie the game at 6-6. 
After Barnes tallied a go-ahead free throw with 3:42 remaining in the opening quarter, Fairchild made a 3-pointer to give the Titans a 9-7 lead and extended the advantage with two free throws with 1:12 left in the quarter. Bleich made a two-point basket to cut GCMS's deficit to 11-9.
On the Falcons' final possession of the first quarter, Connor Birky missed a 3-pointer after grabbing an offensive rebound and Holt missed a tip-in attempt at the buzzer.
After Asa Smith drew a charging call on Birky with 7:09 left in the second quarter Fairchild drained a 3-pointer  25 seconds later before Weber scored on a reverse layup on an offensive-rebound putback to extend EP-G's lead to 16-9 with 5 1/2 minutes.
After Birky scored on a driving layup, Smith made a fastbreak layup. Barnes made two free throws with 3:04 left in the second quarter before Smith scored on an offensive-rebound putback and Ryne Faulk scored while being fouled by Birky with 2:05 left in the second quarter to extend the Titans' lead to 22-13.
Barnes scored after rebounding a missed 3-point shot attempt by Holt with 37 seconds left in the second quarter.
"We knew we did not play very aggressive in the first half. At halftime, we settled down and just said that we've got to play more aggressive," Tompkins said. "We've got to push, and the guys did a great job of doing that in the second half."
Barnes scored the first two points of the third quarter via basket before Fairchild made a 3-pointer and Faulk tallied a two-point field goal to extend the Titans' lead to 27-17 -- but, in the process, put GCMS in a situation in which they are not so unfamiliar.
Although a majority of GCMS's wins during its current 19-game winning streak were via double-digit point differentials, there have been a few times, according to Tompkins, when the Falcons had to rally from double-digit deficits. When GCMS and EP-G met on Tuesday, Jan. 8, with the Falcons pulling out a 58-50 victory, the Titans led 22-13 at the end of the first quarter.
"Luckily, it served us a little bit of experience to kind of settle ourselves down at halftime," Tompkins said.
Bleich and Ben Freehill each tallied a basket to start the GCMS rally. After Fairchild made a basket to make the score 29-21, Holt tipped in a Barnes miss with 3:41 left in the third quarter.
After Barnes recorded a steal with 3:30 remaining in the quarter, he drained a 3-pointer 20 seconds later to cut GCMS's deficit to 29-26. After Weber blocked a Barnes layup attempt with 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, a basket by Smith extended the Titans' lead to 31-26.
Holt missed two free throws with 1:48 left in the third quarter and, after EP-G threw the ball out of bounds with 15 seconds left in the quarter, failed to connect on a 3-point shot attempt in the final seconds of the third quarter. 
Weber scored on a lob pass inbounds to extend EP-G's lead to 33-26 with less than seven minutes remaining. Bleich then made two free throws with 6:28 remaining to make the score 33-28 before Fairchild drew a blocking foul on Nathan Garard and made the front end of two shots from the charity stripe to extend the Titans' advatnage to 34-28 with 5:59 remaining.
Bleich then stole the ball before passing it to Barnes on a fastbreak. Barnes scored on the fastbreak while being fouled by Fairchild with 5:31 left in the game to cut GCMS's deficit to 34-30.
A Holt steal led to a basket by Freehill that further decreased the Falcons' deficit to 34-32, but after Smith made a two-point bucket with 4:31 remaining, GCMS's rally reached a short slowdown thanks to some defensive plays by the Titans.
Weber blocked a Bleich shot attempt with 4:14 left in the game before Smith drew a charging foul by Bleich with 3:52 remaining. 
"They do a good job," Tompkins said. "They're very good defensively. They're always in the right spots. We were just fortunate enough to make a big play there at the end."
Barnes scored two points on a jump shot with 3:24 remaining to cut GCMS's deficit to 36-34, but he was called for a charging foul after running into Smith in the lane with 1:01 left in the game.
"They were packing the paint," Barnes said. "We just didn't hit outside shots. That's something we'll work on in practice. I think we took good shots. They just didn't fall. Hopefully next time, they will fall."
Barnes grabbed a defensive rebound after Weber missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity at the foul line with 58 seconds left. After the ball was poked away from Freehill, it went out of bounds off Weber, setting up Barnes' game-winning three-point play.
Along with Barnes, Bleich also scored in double figures with 12 points while Freehill had four points, Holt had three points and Birky had two points.
The Falcons will host Fieldcrest on Tuesday and Ridgeview the following Friday in HOIC regular-season play before playing a nonconference game at Watseka on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
GCMS 40, El Paso-Gridley 36
EPG 11 11  9   5   -- 36
GCMS 9   6  11 14  -- 40
El Paso-Gridley
Noah Smith 5-0-10, Teron Fairchild 5-3-16, Silas Steiner 1-0-2, Jack Weber 2-0-4, Ryne Faulk 2-0-4, Asa Smith 0-0-0. Totals 15-3-36.
GCMS (20-2)
Caleb Bleich 4-2-12, Ryland Holt 1-1-3, Ben Freehill 2-0-4, Connor Birky 1-0-2, Lane Short 0-0-0, Nathan Garard 0-0-0, Bryce Barnes 7-4-19. Totals 15-7-40.
3-pointers -- EP-G 3 (Fairchild). GCMS 3 (Bleich 2, Barnes).


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