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Resilient Mustangs Rally to Capture Eldon Tournament Crown

January 27, 2013
Marquette Mustang Basketball

An early deficit and potentially devastating injury made the task of capturing the first in-season tournament crown since 2006 a daunting one for Marquette.  This season’s edition of the Mustangs though showed plenty of mettle in overcoming much and taking the 82nd Annual Eldon Invitational title with a 74-58 victory over O’Fallon Christian.

Twenty-four hours had passed since a strength-sapping comeback effort against a hot Carl Junction squad left a Marquette squad searching for some spark early in this title game (the third consecutive appearance for MHS at the Eldon Tourney).  A Mustang squad that had been sure-handed with the basketball opened up this contest with three straight turnovers and four in their first seven possessions.  Those mostly fruitless trips were highlighted by three lonely free throws….and those free tosses came after the Eagles had ran out to an early and seemingly-easy 7-0 advantage.  A lay-in by Matt Hink off a Dillon Jones dish finally broke the cold spell almost 4:00 into play.  Jones quickly followed with an offensive board and putback and by the time Tanner Stabenow nailed a three, the Mustangs were within a field goal at 10-7.  After Jones (who had a career-high 19 points) had driven for a lay-in and converted a pair of free throws, Stabenow hit on a short jumper and John Conlon grabbed an offensive board and laid it in just before the buzzer, amazingly enough the Mustangs had caught and passed Christian at 19-17 at the end of the quarter. 

The field goal by Conlon was important in that it followed what was a gruesome moment out on the floor for Mustang stalwart Matt Hink.  Midway through that first quarter and after tallying a pair of buckets, the 6-5 senior came down awkwardly over an Eagle player and literally landed face-first into the floorboards of the Eldon gymnasium.  After his head bounced almost a foot off the floor, Matt lay silently for a few moments while blood quickly covered the floor.  Matt was able to leave the floor under his own power and was treated by medical personnel at the facility but the prospects of his return looked bleak with a wide gash over his right eyebrow looking to take on double-digit stitches.

The Mustangs, rather than feel sorry for their misfortune losing their leading scorer and rebounder, found another gear.  Conlon’s bucket at the end of the first provided a spark that carried into the second quarter.  4/4 from the free throw line by Stabenow and Brooks Gerrity stretched the lead sandwiched around another Jones field goal.  Dillon again split the Eagle defense to put his team up by six midway through the period when Hink amazingly enough approached the scorers table ready to check in with heavy bandaging over the top half of his face.  His return was quickly followed by space on the perimeter for the Mustangs and Stabenow (Tanner also finished with a career-high 19 for the night) and Gerrity took advantage with consecutive treys.  With two players in foul trouble though late, the Mustangs were forced to go further into their bench than usual.  The sophomore, Jack Matzen, was pressed into service to keep the Mustang attack flowing and he was able to draw a late foul and convert a free throw just before the break to hold the Eagles at bay with Marquette leading it 36-33 at the half.

A Mustang offense that had hit is stride in this tournament was peaking in the third.  MHS would shoot 6/7 from the floor to start the quarter including a contested three by Chris Lenzen and big buckets by Sam Ploeger along the baseline and John Conlon freeing himself to the bucket off a nice cut.  When Gerrity grabbed a steal and laid it in with just under two minutes to go, Marquette had stretched the lead to a game-high 55-41.  The O’Fallon Christian squad that had played such an effective brand of ball showed their grit at that point to stay in it.  An 8-0 run in just over a minute pulled the Eagles to within six before Hink hit a couple of free tosses to put his squad up 57-49 heading into the final quarter.

Marquette would end their seven-year drought of no tournament titles by continuing to shoot the ball well.  MHS nailed four of their first six tries from the field to again put the lead into double-digits early in the fourth.  The free throw parade began at about the 4:30 minute mark.  A season-high 37 attempts from the foul line included 26 makes (8/12 down the stretch) and the final 16-point victory nailed down the first big trophy for a Mustang program that had last won a tourney title in 2006 at the now-defunct Mobil On the Run Northwest Classic against Springfield Hillcrest.

A big non-conference week begins on Tuesday, January 29 as the Mustangs conduct their annual Faculty Night with the tip-off at 7pm against last year’s State Sectionals opponent, Parkway North.

Leading Scorers:  Dillon Jones-19, Tanner Stabenow-19, Brooks Gerrity-15, Matt Hink-11.  Leading Rebounders:  Hink-11, 3 tied with 4.  Leading Assists:  Jones-3, Sam Ploeger-3.  HARD HAT AWARD WINNER:  Tanner Stabenow

For game stats-click HERE

For video highlights-click HERE

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