GCMS boys basketball improves to 22-3

By Ross Brown 
GIBSON CITY -- After barely escaping with a win over Watseka on Tuesday night, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley rolled over Eureka on its home floor Friday night, 63-43.
Ryland Holt and Mitch McNutt led all scorers with 16 points apiece as GCMS improved to 22-3 on the season, including a 10-1 non-tournament record in the Heart of Illinois Conference. Bryce Barnes also finished in double figures for the Falcons with 13 points. 
Connor Birky (8), Lane Short (4), Nathan Garard (3) and Ben Freehill (3) also scored for the Falcons.
GCMS outscored Eureka in every quarter, mustering 21 points in the third quarter and 19 in the second. The Hornets were held to eight points in both the second and fourth quarters and only amassed 16 in the second quarter, its largest scoring quarter.
Head coach Ryan Tompkins said that keeping the turnover ratio low was a key factor in his team’s victory.
“We only had five (turnovers) on Tuesday against Watseka and we only had four against Fieldcrest, so those are our season lows,” he said. “It will be interesting after stats tonight to take a look at them and see where we’re at. Good things happen when we’re able to take care of the ball.”
Eureka, which had previously won five in a row but has gone 1-3 in the last two weeks, was led by Keith Walder, who had 13 points on the night. Walder and Alex Brittain (12) were the only Hornets in double figures. Jacob Bachman, Justin Buchman, Aaron Schwab and Adam Anderson each had three points for Eureka while Hunter Umland, Keegan Zimmerman and Austin Davis each chipped in a bucket. 
Eureka goes back home with a record of 11-11 overall and 7-5 in the conference. The Hornets close the regular season out with a home game against Fieldcrest on Tuesday night and at Flanagan-Cornell on Friday night.
Tompkins said that Eureka was marred by an injury to Bachman, going 8-3 overall and 4-2 in conference play since he was injured around Christmastime.
“They are a good team, but how we came out and played, we were able to dictate tempo to get some transition baskets,” he said. “Defensively, we knew they were going to be pretty physical and try to do the post and different things, but we did a nice job of rotating and moving and creating some turnovers.”
Of Holt’s 16 points, six came in the third quarter and four in the first, including a dunk in the third which riled up the crowd.
“Everyone in school is talking about ‘Hey, are you going to get a dunk tonight, and how many points are you going to score?’,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to have everyone support us and to be able to show off what we can do for them.”
The junior said that he and his teammates used motivation to bounce back from a two-game losing streak a couple weeks ago.
“I think after those two losses it was really all motivation for us after going through all those mistakes,” he said. “We really don’t like losing, so we all got together and really came together as a group. Our response really grew.”
Coming out of a lackluster effort on Tuesday night during which the Falcons allowed 12 3-pointers makes from their opponent, GCMS stepped up its game. Holt said that the players challenged each other leading up to the game.
“Before the game we really challenged each other,” he said. “It was like, ‘Who can get the most points and rebounds’ and stuff like that, so we really stepped up on both ends.”
Tompkins said that Holt has been a rising star since his middle school playing days, as he has become one of the best athletes in school history.
“I can remember Ryland as a little guy coming in and sitting on the stage after school from the 8th grade, wanting to play,” he said. “He was a gym rat. He loved the game and he had enough confidence knowing what he was going to be able to do to stick with it and work hard.”
“Through that, he’s probably been motivated some too in that he had to find his way on the court with a really competitive group, and he really continues to get better and better. You saw another facet of his game tonight. We know he’s got touch. We know he can knock down shots all over the place, and tonight he did a good job of powering but also taking a step back and hitting those 12 to 15 shots.”
Earlier in the week, McNutt -- the team’s lone senior -- signed as a preferred walk-on to Lovie Smith’s Illini football program. The effort he gave during the championship season hasn’t let up on the hoops end, as he has led the team in multiple games this season. 
Tompkins said he has lots of talent in each sport.
“Mitch is a kid whose football credentials kind of overshadowed his basketball accomplishments,” he said. “He’s a 1,200-point scorer and a kid who has shot a ton of baskets in his lifetime playing in AAU, in front of a shed or his driveway. He is playing well as any senior wants to heading into the last stretch of the season.”
Tompkins also credited Birky with his effort and ability to shoot buckets.
“Teams have to worry about him because he really stretches the floor,” he said. “He makes them come out and guard because of his ability to shoot the ball and his high-percentage shot out there, nearly 45 percent from three. He’s switched positions a little bit. We’re putting him more at the wing, and the ball’s been finding him and he’s been finding the bottom of the net.”
GCMS, who received the second-highest seed in the IHSA Class 2A Hoopeston Area Regional, gets a first-round bye and will play the either the host Cornjerkers or St. Thomas More at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21.
The Falcons have two home dates this week. GCMS will play LeRoy on Tuesday night. 
Mark Edmundson’s Panther squad defeated the Falcons 66-34 in the Thanksgiving Tournament, though only two of the current varsity players on GCMS's roster dressed for that game since the football season had not concluded. 
On Friday night, GCMS will close the regular season out with the struggling Lexington Minutemen, who are winless in conference play.
Holt said that the team is concentrating on each game and not looking ahead.
“Everyday we’re just working to get better and not thinking about regionals or anything else, just the next game,” he said.
TUESDAY, Feb. 6 
GCMS 65, Watseka 63. GCMS never let Watseka gain the lead on Tuesday night, though the Falcons whittled a six point halftime lead to a tie game on two occasions late in the game before escaping with a 65-63 triumph over the Warriors in Gibson City.
Mitch McNutt led the Falcons with 22 points, while Bryce Barnes added 21 and Ryland Holt chipped in 14. Nathan Garard and Connor Birky each scored three points and Ben Freehill had a first quarter bucket for GCMS.
Brendan Fletcher led all scorers with 26 points, including six three-point baskets. Justin McTaggart had 20 points for the Warriors, which fell to 17-10 overall and 3-3 in the Sangamon Valley Conference after a losses Friday night to PBL and Saturday night to South Newton.
Blake Castonguay and Ben Lyznicki each chipped in 7 points for Watseka, while Sahib Singh added four points in the losing effort.
GCMS led 23-16 after the first quarter but was outscored the rest of the way, putting up 14 points in the second, 18 in the third and 10 in the fourth. Watseka had its highest scoring output in the third quarter with 19 points, followed by 16 in the first, 15 in the second and 13 in the third.
The Falcons were unable to stop the three point attempt, allowing 12 of the Warriors’ shots from behind the arc while continuing an ineffective man-to-man-defense.
With the score tied with under 10 seconds to play, a foul by Watseka forced Mitch McNutt to shoot free throws. After making both, GCMS stole Watseka's cross-court pass in the final seconds to close out the game.


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