SHELBYVILLE — On Friday, in a Central Illinois Conference game moved up due to the predicted snowstorm, the Shelbyville Rams won its ninth straight game as sophomore Braden Nichols scored a season-high 27 points and Malcolm Miller added 25. Defensively the Rams sophomore Leo Logue held Tuscola's top scorers, freshman Jalen Quinn to no points in the final 11:04 of the game as Shelbyville won 62-55.
"We showed some grit tonight," said Shelbyville coach Bob Herdes. "It was a tough basketball game. We told the kids it would be a tough game, but that is what they should want to play. You should want to play in games like this where it is intense. It is hard on old coaches, but the kids ought to love it."
Quinn still finished with a team-high 25 for the Warriors, who fell to 11-5 overall and 1-1 in the CIC.
"We went to a semi box-and-one. It really wasn't a true box," said Herdes. "We just said to Leo, 'You have got to stay on him no matter where he goes because the kid is really good.' Leo did a really nice job on him."
Tuscola played a box-and-one on Shelbyville's top player Malcolm Miller, a 6-4 senior, who averaged 28.1 points per game prior to the contest.
"Malcolm's poise and composure is just amazing," said Herdes. "He never loses his composure. He finds a way to do things. He finds a way to make plays for us. He really went to the boards in the second half (11 of his 15 rebounds)."
Shelbyville led 54-47 after two free throws by Nichols with 1:53 left. Tuscola's Jacob Kibler made a basket, Quinn stole the ball and Kibler was fouled and sank a pair of free throws making it a one-possession game with 1:19 remaining. Miller made two free throws, but the Warriors' big guy, Brayden VonLanken, who finished with a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, answered with a basket with 50 seconds left. Nichols made all four of his free throws and Miller sank his two as the Rams improved to 16-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference with the 7-point victory.
Tuscola was helped by superb free-throw shooting, hitting 21-of-22 (.955), including the first 15 in a row.
The Warriors were just 5-of-19 from the field in the fourth quarter including many misses inside the free-throw lane in the final minutes.
"Tuesday we were not getting great shots down the stretch (53-43 loss to Tolono Unity) when it is time to get quick looks and attack," said Tuscola coach Justin Bozarth. "I was happy tonight that we got good looks, but they just didn't go in. We have to do a better job around the basket. For whatever reason in the fourth, they just didn't go down."
Nichols had 25 points in the win over Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City last Tuesday and entered the contest averaging 9.7 points per game.
"Nichols is our best shooter and in the last couple of games he has taken over vocal leadership and he was willing to get the basketball," said Herdes. "He handled the basketball in intense situations and I am just immensely proud of where he has come. He is money on the free-throw line, and any time you get in his hands or Malcolm's you feel good. Nichols wanted that basketball and wanted to go to the free-throw line."
The Rams came out on fire, sinking 8-of-11 from the field, including 3-for-6 from beyond the 3-point arc in the opening 7:24 of the game. The game was deadlocked at five when Shelbyville went on a 10-0 run starting with a 3-pointer by sophomore Nichols. Miller scored and Nichols hit another 3-pointer followed by a bucket by Miller for a 15-5 lead with 2:04 left in the opening quarter.
"Tuscola is just so physical," said Herdes. "VonLanken is just so big we had trouble with him. Tuscola is a good team. They are big and they are strong. The Quinn kid is going to be great."
Tuscola made all 11 free throws in the first half to help them and trailed 21-15 after Miller hit Payton Bryant for two. The Warriors went on a 10-0 run of their own starting with freshman Quinn's 3-pointer. VonLanken scored and Quinn followed with a 3-point play to put the Warriors in front for the first time, 23-21. Tuscola took its largest lead of the game, 25-21 when the Rams closed the half on a 10-0 run to lead 31-25.
"We didn't finish the first half well," said Bozarth. "We had three starters on the bench due to foul trouble in the last 1:59 and they finished on the 10-0 run. We have to do a better job of surviving those runs."
Shelbyville was without starter Kade Kull, who has missed the last four contests due to an injury.
"He has a pulled abductor muscle in his groin...and it is the same injury that Steph Curry and Lebron James have right now. We can't rush him. If we did we would lose him for the year."
Miller was honored prior to the game for breaking the all-time record held by 1962 graduate Larry Hinton, who was unable to be at the game, but sent a note that was read by the public address announcer.
Shelbyville is to play host to Warrensburg-Latham Tuesday in another CIC contest.