NASHVILLE, Ill. — A groin injury cast doubt on Nashville senior Bennett Briles’ availability Friday night.
But the versatile 6-foot-9 center looked anything but physically compromised as he scored a game-high 21 points and hit three 3-pointers to propel the Hornets past Mascoutah 52-38 in the semifinals of the Nashville Invitational Tournament.
“I haven’t practiced the last few days. It’s really been bothering me,” Briles said. “But I’ve just been stretching it out and today I was able to play. It was kind of bothering me a little bit, but it wasn’t as bad as it has been. I was able to play.”
Seniors Ryan Hammer and Carter Schoenherr added eight points apiece for Nashville (13-9), which will meet defending champion Breese Central (20-2) in the title game at 8 p.m. Saturday. Mascoutah (15-6) will meet Mater Dei (10-9) for third place at 6:30 p.m.
Briles controlled the paint and the perimeter. His 3-pointer with 4 minutes and 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter put the Hornets 30-27. Hammer’s layup from Schoenherr put Nashville ahead for good at 36-34 with 51 seconds left in the quarter.
Briles then closed the door, opening the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer that made it 39-34. Mascoutah answered with a basket by junior Miles Ntekop, but the Hornets outscored the Indians 13-2 in the final 5:21, led by six points from Briles.
“What could go wrong went wrong,” said Mascoutah coach Cole Schomaker, whose team was saddled by foul difficulties on its top two players, senior Quincy Hall Jr. and the 6-5 Ntekop. “We’re not used to playing without both of them, for sure.
“We don’t play a whole lot of zone defense, but without Jacob Jung — who is out for the year with an ACL injury — and with Miles out with foul trouble, we had to play zone. It didn’t look good, but we fought. They out-toughed us, outplayed us and made shots. Credit to Nashville. They beat us in every facet of the ballgame.”
Briles finished 8-for-15 from the field and also led all players with six rebounds. One of his most impressive baskets of the game came in the final 2.8 seconds left in the first half.
Schoenherr heaved a long courtside pass to Briles in the middle of the lane. Briles leaped and caught the ball in traffic, then finished ahead of the horn to tie the game at 25.
Briles had been on the bench until the Hornets got the ball after a turnover.
“He subbed me in and I knew exactly what was going on,” Briles said of coach Stote Reeder sending him back onto the floor. “Carter threw it, I caught it. It was a great pass. It just helps being taller.”
Unfortunately for the Indians, they were to see much more of Briles in the second half.
“He’s a super talented kid,” Schomaker said. “We’ve seen spurts of him being really, really good. Tonight, he was great. Inside, matchup issues, he made them. The flare screens, he made those. And Rylan Hammer was fantastic. He played his tail off.”
Reeder said the Hornets reached a low point of their season with a 59-35 loss at St. Joseph-Ogden on Jan. 7. It was their sixth loss in eight games and the team was seeking answers.
Nashville has responded with five consecutive victories.
“We set a goal after St. Joe kicked the crap out of us,” Reeder said. “We said, ‘We’re finally going home for a little while. Six straight home games and we’re going to win them all.’ I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but we’ve got five of them done. Now we’ve got one more and it’s going to be the hardest one.”
The Indians, who trailed 15-6 late in the first quarter, initially withstood the foul trouble on Ntekop and Hall and built a 23-19 lead in the second quarter.
Ntekop picked up his second foul with 2:23 to play in the first quarter, while Hall was charged with his third with 3:02 left in the second quarter. Hall opened the second half on the bench, re-entering with 2:11 left in the third quarter.
Offensively, however, Mascoutah never did click. Hall, its leading scorer at 11.4 points a game, finished with eight. Ntekop, the Indians’ second-leading scorer at 10.1 points a game, closed with seven. Sophomore Jayden McCoo and senior Michael Fox also had eight points.
Nashville shot 53% from the field (21-for-40) and had just three turnovers. The Indians shot 42% (13-for-31) with eight turnovers.
“Our defense was incredible all game,” Reeder said. “And our offense came to play. (Mascoutah) struggled to guard multiple sides of the floor. When we would only play one side of the floor, they would get a stop. When we played three sides of the floor, we would get a bucket. We really attacked with our guards. Rylan and Carter were awesome.”
CHESTERFIELD — Aydan Trawick pounced Friday night when the ball went toward the free-throw line.
Nashville guard Rylan Hammer passes as Mascoutah players Quincy Hall (5) and Corey Harris defend. Mascoutah played Nashville in a semifinal game at the 40th Annual Nashville Invitational Basketball Tournament at Nashville High School in Nashville, IL on Friday January 20, 2023. Tim Vizer/Special to STLhighschoolsports.com