A strong second half was not enough to overcome a rough first half for Hutsonville-Palestine's boys basketball team.
The Tigers scratched and clawed to stay in the game with visiting Marshall in the second half, but a 12-point halftime deficit was too much to come back from, resulting in a 71-61 loss in the Little Illini Conference opener for both teams Friday night in Hutsonville.
"I thought we played a solid ball game," HHS-PHS head coach Travis Titsworth said. "Our team will never quit. They will fight all the way to the end."
Poor shooting in the first half by Hutsonville-Palestine contributed mightily to their double-digit deficit, as did eight second-chance points by a bigger and longer Marshall team. The Tigers made just 6-19 field goal attempts in the first two quarters (32 percent) and were outrebounded 22-12 in the first half, with many of Marshall's rebounds coming on the offensive end.
After Marshall scored the first basket of the game, Dylan Webster scored three straight points for Hutsonville-Palestine on a free throw and a layup to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead with 5:15 to go in the opening quarter. Marshall would score the next four points to take a 6-3 lead, but Graham Alspach answered with consecutive baskets to put Hutsonville-Palestine back in front, 7-6, with 2:41 left.
Marshall would respond with the final six points of the period for a 12-7 lead, then scored the first four points of the second quarter to make the score 16-7. A 5-2 spurt by the Tigers would close the gap to 18-12 with 4:59 remaining, but they would not get any closer the rest of the way. The Lions would end the half with a 7-2 run to take a 31-19 lead at halftime and they led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before taking a 53-38 lead into the fourth quarter.
Hutsonville-Palestine would not go away quietly, as a 10-2 run in the middle of the fourth pulled the Tigers to within 63-55 when Matt Schmidlin knocked down a three-pointer with 2:18 to play. After a three-pointer by Marshall's Keegan Steele, Landon Williams hit a three-pointer for the Tigers to make the score 66-58 with 1:32 to play.
The game became a free throw shooting contest at that point and Marshall was able to make just enough (5-10) down the stretch to hold off the Tigers.
"We shot poorly in the first half and missed some looks were normally make," Titsworth said. "We made those in the second half and were able to get back in the ball game. Our effort I was pleased with, but we can't be battling back all the time like that. We have to stay even and give ourselves a chance."
For the game, Hutsonville-Palestine made 21-49 field goal attempts (43 percent), including 15-27 from two-point range (56 percent) and 6-22 from three-point range (27 percent). Marshall did not shoot much better, but they made more shots than the Tigers. The Lions connected on 26-58 shots from the floor, which included 20-37 from inside the arc (54 percent) and 6-21 from long distance (29 percent). Each team made 13 free throws, with the Tigers knocking down 13-21 (62 percent), while the Lions were just 13-29 from the foul line (45 percent).
Alspach topped Hutsonville-Palestine with 18 points, six rebounds and one assist, while Webster posted 11 points, one rebound, one steal and one assist. Williams netted 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and one steal, Schmidlin contributed 10 points, two rebounds and two assists, Tyler Heflin totaled seven points, seven rebounds, two assists and one steal and Joe Eckert added five points, four rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals and two assists in his first game of the season.
"Graham played a nice game and he looked really composed out there for a sophomore against some good pressure from Marshall," Titsworth said. "It was nice to have Joe out there. He brings a lot of energy and does a lot of things for us that nobody else can do. Landon hit a couple of big threes for us and Cole (Wesner) did a nice job inside against their big guys."
Steele led Marshall with 21 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Taylor Maurer posted 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals. Thomas Sisson and Walker Berner were also in double figures for the Lions with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Marshall also won the junior varsity game, 59-34.
Trent Newlin led Hutsonville-Palestine with 10 points, while Blake Newlin tossed in eight. Mikey Roberts added seven points, Jacob Weaver scored four, Justin Lowrance netted three and Kienan Knecht had two.
Hutsonville-Palestine (4-3, 0-1 LIC) will play at Lawrenceville for a Little Illini Conference contest Tuesday at 6:15 p.m.