GCMS boys basketball team ends season with 25-4 record after loss in regional title game

By Ross Brown

HOOPESTON — The game seemed to be over with less than two minutes to go as Monticello led Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley by eight points in the IHSA Class 2A regional championship game at Hoopeston.

In a span of less than 10 seconds, that momentum shifted GCMS’s way, as Ben Freehill made two 3-pointers to tie the game at 43 with 1:17 to go in the game.

But the exciting minute for Falcon fans ended in heartbreak, as the Sages’ Benton Singleton drove through the lane and hit a buzzer-beater from the right side of the basket to secure a 45-43 win for Monticello.

Singleton led all scorers with 17 points as Monticello (24-1) won its second consecutive regional championship and will play in the sectional at Maroa this week. Calvin Fisher added 10 points in double figures for the Sages. Luke Stokowski had nine points, Johnny Dawson had six points and Noah Wright added three. Next up for the Sages is a sectional semifinal Wednesday night against fellow Illini Prairie Conference foe St. Joseph-Ogden.

Freehill led the Falcons in scoring with 13 points in perhaps his best performance all season long. Connor Birky had 12 points and Bryce Barnes had 11 as three Falcons made it into double figures. Senior Mitch McNutt had five points on the night while Ryland Holt, usually the team’s leading scorer, only had two points.

Head coach Ryan Tompkins said that the team played competitively throughout the contest, even though GCMS dropped the contest.

“They (Monticello) came out with some great momentum in the first quarter,” he said. “We came out in the second and got things turned around and got the lead. They were 8 for 8 including five contested jump shots. It’s hard to overcome that, but we had a gutsy job there in the fourth quarter.”

The game was tight a majority of the game, with the largest lead by Monticello at eight points near the end of the game.

The two teams were tied at 13 after one quarter. The second quarter was almost identical to the final stanza, as Monticello built up a 23-16 lead before GCMS went on a 9-0 run to end the half, leading 25-23 at the break.

The third quarter was easily the Sages’ best. Coming out of the locker room, Monticello went on a 9-2 run, outscoring the Falcons 18-10 in the quarter to have a 41-35 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Monticello continued to strengthen its lead before GCMS roared back late. At the time that Freehill made his first three point shot, the Sages were leading by six. Immediately after the made attempt, GCMS stole a bad pass away from Monticello to set up the junior’s second shot.

The game was tied from the 1:17 mark until the end. After officials put 0.8 seconds back on the clock, the Falcons were able to pass half-court to McNutt, but his long attempt did not fall through.

“With about three minutes to go we decided to start fouling since we were down three possessions at that point and we knew how the game was going,” Tompkins said. “We were able to get their lead down, put some pressure on them and get some turnovers. That got us into the bonus but we did not have one to burn at the end.”

With Freehill coming to life during the week, including a key 3-pointer in Wednesday night’s regional semifinal over St. Thomas More that broke a fourth quarter scoring drought, Tompkins said that his effort was key to the team’s fortune.

“Ben had an outstanding game,” he said. “Words can’t describe how big those plays were.”

Tompkins said that the team tried to take care of three parts of the game in their quest to defeat Monticello.

“Three things we knew we couldn’t do coming in: one being that we didn’t want to have turnovers, second-chance points and we had to make perimeter shots,” he said. “You take those three facets into consideration, and we did a good job hitting shots. We took care of it for the most part, although we did give them some second chances ,but they didn’t come back to hurt us like most teams can do.”

Friday night’s loss marked the second straight season in which GCMS has fallen short in a regional championship, losing last year to Paxton-Buckley-Loda in Gibson City after a buzzer beating-attempt did not materialize.

GCMS ends the 2017-18 season with a 25-4 record, including the Heart of Illinois Conference regular-season title and the Monticello Holiday Hoopla championship.

The team’s 25 wins eclipses the previous Gibson City record set by the 1971-72 Greyhounds, as well as the GCMS record set in 2005. Melvin High School’s 1941-42 holds the district record for most wins in season with 28, and the Tigers finished with 27 wins in the previous season. Melvin-Sibley’s 1961-62 squad won 26 games.

The game also marked the last for Mitch McNutt, GCMS’s lone senior. McNutt finishes his basketball career third on the all-time scoring list. His success on the gridiron and the court solidifies his spot as one of the greatest Falcon athletes of all-time.

“He obviously was football-driven and he loved football, and he’s going to have a great career at the U of I, but he never came into basketball and didn’t do the work,” Tompkins said. “He came in and clocked in and did a great amount of work. Everyone knows about his emotionless demeanor. Guys never had to look at Mitch and worry about his behavior during games. He was the same calming type of person every game. He was a pleasure to coach. I thanked him for last night for all he did to the program.”

With four of the team’s five starters returning for the 2018-19 season, Tompkins said that the group is looking to accomplish even more next season than it did this year.

“This is obviously a group that wants to win and competes, and they don’t know anything but that,” he said. “There’s not another locker room in the state that you want to be in after losing. That’s a team that’s a special thing to be a part of and to see that every night. It was great to be around a group of guys that get along so well because if the team doesn’t get along, you’re not going to be able to have the success that you want. This team plays selfless and not individually, and wants to succeed. We’re only going to see bigger and better things from here on.”


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