The Norris City-Omaha-Enfield Fighting Cardinal basketball team kicked off Greater Egyptian Conference Tournament play Tuesday evening at Southeastern Illinois College against the Pope County Pirates. NCOE came into the contest as the #6 seed and Pope County was granted the #3 seed.
NCOE started the game by winning the tip and would grab the early 2-0 lead following a few minutes of play due to sluggish offense on both ends of the court. This lead was short lived when the Pirates connected on a three pointer to jump in front 3-2. Both teams would battle back and forth the remainder of the way but Pope County would manage to capture the 9-7 lead after one quarter of play. Second quarter action was fairly balanced but the Pirates would manage to top NCOE 11-9 to extend their lead to four points at halftime.
Second half action did not start out the way the Fighting Cardinals had hoped as they quickly found themselves falling behind and having to battle back and outscore Pope County 14-12 to narrow the Pirate lead and to keep the game within reach heading into the final stanza of play. This fourth and final quarter would witness the Fighting Cardinals edging even closer to the Pirates at 41-40 when Brandon Skaggs connected on a three pointer. This play followed by a Jack Riggs drive found NCOE capturing the lead back since the opening quarter at 42-41. Pope County answered back when they broke the Fighting Cardinal press and threw one off the glass that rattled in to claim the 43-42 advantage. With 9 seconds remaining the Fighting Cardinals fell prey to a late turnover which forced the fouling game to try to regain possession. As they had done most of the night Pope County was efficient from the line and knocked down both free throws to extend their lead to 45-42. The Fighting Cardinals had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer but the shot trailed off, and the Pirates handed NCOE the three point loss.
Joe Melton led the Fighting Cardinal offense with 16 points followed closely by Brandon Skaggs with 14 points. Others scoring for NCOE Jack Riggs and Ty Money with four points a piece, and Trey Simmons and Colton O’Neal with two points each
The Fighting Cardinals (6-11) will be back in action Thursday evening at SIC when they take on the Galatia Bearcats at 6:30 p.m. in consolation bracket play.
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