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MONTICELLO — Less than eight hours after GCMS doubled its win total (two) from last year, it faced a test which, if it came out victorious, would take it to the next step toward being an elite basketball team.
After Neoga went into halftime trailing Wednesday’s Monticello Holiday Hoopla game 22-18, it went on a 22-7 run in the third quarter — including a 14-0 spurt to end the quarter — to go into the fourth quarter leading 40-29.
“We did not play well in the middle to late part of that third quarter,” GCMS head coach Ryan Tompkins. “Neoga really took it to us.”
The Falcons passed the test, going on a 25-14 run in the final quarter and beating the Indians 64-59.
“That’s a huge one for our kids to pull out,” GCMS head coach Ryan Tompkins said. “That’s a big win for us. I’m very happy for our kids and this win. This is the one we’ve been meaning to get. This year, we’ve been in some tough battles and couldn’t pull it through, but we pulled this one out.”
One of the players who answered the bell for GCMS (5-6) was senior Ben Eads.
After scoring only five points through the first three quarters, Eads responded to a challenge from the coach, tallying 16 points the rest of the way to finish with a game-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Eads also collected eight rebounds, including three on the offensive end.
“(Coach Tompkins) challenged me because I was being weak and I wasn’t playing like myself,” Eads said. “I could play a lot more physical, and I tried to show that. That’s what he challenged me to do.”
While Wiley Hasty — who led the first-half scoring for the Falcons with 11 points, but would eventually foul out of the game — was dealing with foul trouble, Eads stepped in by hitting the go-ahead shot off an inbound pass to give GCMS a 48-47 lead with about 2:30 left in regulation.
After Jake Baker — who led Neoga (2-9) in scoring with 19 points — scored on a three-point play to put his team up 54-52 with 38.1 seconds left, Eads scored the tying bucket on an offensive rebound on the Falcons’ next possession.
The scoring efforts continued into overtime, as Eads also scored GCMS’ first five overtime points.
He rebounded a Reese Simpson shot — which was set up by one of Simpson’s three steals — to score the first two-point field goal of the overtime period.
After Neoga’s Riley Walk scored to tie the game at 57-57, Eads scored on a three-point play with 1:15 remaining.
“We challenged Ben to come out and play,” Tompkins said. “When we had Wiley in foul trouble, Ben got back out there and did a tremendous job to get himself the basket and finish around the rim. And he had a great day today. He did a good job of playing the way he was in the earlier part of the season and really getting aggressive around the basket. It was really good for him to come out and play like that.”
The Falcons never trailed after Eads’ three-point play. After Walk scored to cut GCMS’s lead to 60-59, Ross Royal and Nick Retherford each had two free-throw opportunities with less than 20 seconds remaining.
Each missed the back end of the charity-stripe chances, but Retherford rebounded Royal’s miss and Eads did the same for Retherford. From there, Drake Royal sank two foul shots to extend GCMS’s lead to 64-59 and ice the game.
“Our kids stepped up tonight,” Tompkins said. “There were some things we struggled with, but we made plays down the stretch. We had a great sequence. We made enough free throws and chased down the loose balls to get ourself back on the line and Drake Royal iced it with two more.”
The first half was a defensive struggle. The Falcons shot 9-for-25 (36 percent) from the field while Neoga (7-for-20) made 35 percent of its field goal attempts.
Both teams stepped up offensively in the second half, as GCMS and Neoga finished the game shooting 47.9 and 42.6 (23-for-54) percent, respectively.
The Indians, meanwhile, made only 1-of-11 shots from 3-point range while the Falcons were 0-for-6 from beyond the arc. Neoga went 12-for-22 from the free-throw line while GCMS made 18-of-29 from the charity stripe.
The Falcons forced 18 Neoga turnovers while giving up the ball 17 times.
“I thought, defensively, from start to finish, we did a pretty good job,” Tompkins said. “Jake Baker’s a very good player. He can score in a multitude of ways. He takes to the basket and hit the open jump shot. They’ve got some size inside.
“We did a good job defensively of executing. We wanted to force them to try and do some certain things. We were able to do that, and we really contained them for the most part until they had that run on us to kind of give themselves some confidence.”
Hasty scored seven of his 11 first-half points in the first quarter. He would finish the game with 16 points and nine rebounds before fouling out.
“Wiley’s been very steady, very consistent,” Tompkins said. “He carried us for a little bit tonight. He kept us in the ballgame. He’s done a very good job. He’s got good touch around the basket. He’s able to draw contact and fight through it and get to the basket and draw a foul and get some and-1 opportunities.”
In addition to his scoring, Hasty contributed to GCMS’s post play with his aggressive play, which had a big hand in Neoga senior Michael Baker fouling out with 7:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Michael Baker was in foul trouble all night with him because of the way Wiley played inside,” Tompkins said. “That was important. That kind of took away their shot blocker inside and some of their length.”
Retherford joined Eads and Hasty in the double-digit scoring club with 10 points, including five of the Falcons’ seven third-quarter points.
Simpson scored seven points and collected five rebounds. Ross Royal had six points — including a three-point play in the fourth quarter that cut GCMS’s deficit to 40-35 — and four rebounds while Drake Royal added four points.
GCMS 55, Niantic Sangamon Valley 40
Ben Eads led the Falcons with 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds in a game in which GCMS led the whole time.
“It feels great to get two wins,” Eads said Wednesday. “It was a great team effort. We’re just getting better and stronger as the season goes. People better start watching out.”
Wiley Hasty scored in double figures as well with 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Nick Retherford had eight boards as well along with seven points.
Reese Simpson scored seven points as well along with three steals while Drake Royal tallied six points. Tyler Hinshaw added four points while Ross Royal had three points and assists each.
Jake Barnes contributed two points.
The Falcons will face Monticello today at 3:30 p.m.
“Monticello’s a very good team,” Tompkins said. “We’ve just got to come out and play with confidence and play like we’ve got nothing to lose because that’s exactly how it is.”