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Lift for Life storms back for tournament victory against Mount Vernon

Lift for Life storms back for tournament victory against Mount Vernon

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EDWARDSVILLE — Otis Grissom twirled the ball in his hand Tuesday as he stood at the free-throw line.

The Lift for Life junior knew what was on the line as he stared at the basket.

"There was a little pressure because I knew if I'd missed, they'd win," Grissom said. "I felt like I had to make them. My heart was pumping hard."

Quelling his thundering heart, the junior drained both free throws and Lift for Life completed a 64-63 comeback victory over Mount Vernon in the Metro-East Lutheran Turkey Tipoff tournament.

Mount Vernon led 34-26 at halftime.

"This, along with our playoff run last year, is another monumental moment in our program," Lift for Life coach Torrey Davie said. "This we knew was another program changer, but we were ready for it. We've arrived."

Lift for Life (2-0) will look to finish unbeaten in pool play when it faces off against Christ Our Rock Lutheran (1-1) at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The tournament's placing games are scheduled for Friday.

The Hawks trailed 63-62 with less than 10 seconds left in regulation when Grissom drove to the lane and was fouled as he went up for a layup. 

Before taking his first free throw, Grissom recalled the Hawks' fourth-place finish in last season's Class 3 state tournament. He leaned on that experience as he sank the first attempt to tie the game 63-63.

"After the (semifinal) run we grew as a team," Grissom said. "Our chemistry and everything from then, that helped through those pressure moments."

When Mount Vernon (1-1) called its final timeout, Grissom had a chance to breathe before sinking the go-ahead free throw.

Grissom finished with a team-high 18 points. Lajuan Johnson added 13 points and ripped down seven boards and Anthony Caldwell Jr. scored 10 points off the bench. 

The Hawks suffered through foul trouble and shooting woes in the first half, shooting under 30 percent as a team from the field as they were saddled with 13 fouls.

But that didn't stop Lift for Life from cranking up the pressure.

"We're going to continue to press, but it may look different and you'll have to pick and choose where you press with certain lineups, but we have to maintain our aggression," Davie said. "That goes along with our mentality."

The constant pressure ended up catching up to the Rams in the second half.

The Rams coughed the ball up 27 times, 15 in the second half. 

"They put a lot of pressure on you and I think it finally wore us down," Mount Vernon coach Tim Holloway said. "I think we let their press get to us. They have a lot of quickness and early in the season we haven't seen that much quickness."

Mount Vernon was led by Missouri State commit NJ Benson, a 6-foot-8 forward who had a game-high 27 points.

Benson has scored 61 points in two tournament games.

"Somebody said before the game you've just got to shut him down, but you're never going to shut him down," Davie said. "We just wanted to wear him down."

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