BY SAM SCINTA WEEKLY REPORTER
CENTRALIA – The O’Fallon Township High School Boys Basketball took part in the annual Centralia Holiday Tournament over the New Year weekend, recovering from a tough loss to finish in the top five.
OTHS grabbed wins over Cahokia, Thornton Fractional North, and Southwestern Conference rival Alton to balance a loss to tournament runner-up and Chicago upstart Marist Catholic.
The Panthers opened the tournament with an instant classic, two overtime win over the Cahokia Comanches.
O’Fallon needed most of regulation to dig out of an early double-digit deficit following a 13-2 Cahokia run.
Senior Jarvus Smith would cap the comeback, scoring in close with under 20 seconds to go in the second overtime period to give OTHS the thrilling 64-62 win.
The Blue and Gold advanced to face then-undefeated Marist Catholic Redhawks in the second round, but the same comeback magic that blessed the Panthers in round one was nowhere to be seen.
Marist Catholic dominated pace of play from start to finish, routing an overmatched O’Fallon team in convincing 67-40 fashion.
“They’re legit,” Head Coach Brian Muniz said of the Redhawks. “They have all the pieces you’re looking for and create a lot of matchup nightmares down low.”
The loss dropped the Panthers into a semi-final matchup with 6-3 Alton, and early morning grogginess perhaps contributed to a sloppy slug-fest between two conference rivals.
O’Fallon took a nine-point lead after the first quarter and never looked back despite a dismal shooting performance all over the court, staving off a gritty Redbird team 39-30.
The win served as a bit of revenge for a brutal 54-55 loss to Alton at the Panther Dome in early December.
Burke Watts led the Panthers in scoring, netting 10.
Alton was eliminated from the tournament with the loss.
OTHS then advanced to the fifth place game against Thornton Fractional North, who had advanced by thumping Germantown (Tennessee) in their semi-final contest.
The Panthers found themselves in another nail-biter, needing to outscore Thornton Fractional North by five in the final frame to post the 59-57 win and secure the fifth place finish.
“I’m really proud of the way our guys competed during this tournament,” Muniz said of his team. “They won three of four and had to do each in different fashion. That’s a good mark of a team on the rise.”
This was the 74th year Centralia has hosted its Holiday Tournament, with this year featuring 16 of the state’s toughest teams.