BLOOMINGTON, Ill.– The cliché goes that “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” The Bloomington Flex did not even let the proverbial dish get lukewarm, as they waited a little over a week to exact revenge for their opening 113-109 loss at the hands of the St. Louis RiverSharks. Thursday night, the two squared off in Bloomington, and the Flex came away with a 106-90 victory.
Where as in the Jan. 4 contest it took some clutch free throws from St. Louis forward Terry Evans to guarantee the victory, the Flex took control in the third quarter and would not let it go. Bloomington was led yet again by the inside-outside combo of Anthony Slack and Justin Bocot.
Guard Justin Bocot posted his third consecutive 30-point game, throwing in 31 on this night. Bocot’s feat is a first for the Bloomington franchise.
Meanwhile, Slack put up a season-high 21 points and grabbed a game-leading 9 rebounds, 5 of which came on the offensive glass. Slack was simply too much inside for the RiverSharks in this one after they found early foul trouble. In the third and fourth quarters, he put on a bit of one man dunk contest.
Slack’s performance certainly didn’t come as a shock to himself. Before the game, he told the MPBA broadcast team of Craig Fata and Jim Ahart that his knees were feeling good and he was going to have a big night.
Slack and his teammates made their presence felt right away jumping out to a 19-11 lead after the first quarter. Neither team shot the ball well in the opening period, but the RiverSharks were whistled for 10 fouls. Bloomington went 8-14 at the in the period and forwards Keith DeWitt (2) and Anthony Booker (4) found themselves in foul trouble.
An 11-0 run spanning the end of the first and the beginning of the second quarter got St. Louis back in it, and Brandon Hogg dropped in 2 of his game-high 15 first half points to tie the game at 21-21. For most of the rest of the half, the lead hovered between 3 either way. The RiverSharks shot a blistering 9-17 from the field and 7-9 at the free throw line in the quarter, but the Flex would go into the break with a 42-39 lead.
The third quarter proved to be the key. Bloomington outscored St. Louis 34-19 in the quarter. As a team the Flex shot 15-19, which– for you people that hate math– is 79%. Bocot, Slack and CJ Hampton scored 11, 7 and 9 points respectively, in that quarter alone. On the other side, St. Louis shot 5-13, 38% in the third. Not a winning formula if you are a St. Louis fan. The Flex lead was 76-60 when the horn mercifully sounded on the quarter.
Flex Head Coach Carlnel Wiley Jr. credited his team’s third quarter performance to buying in as a team. “We wanted to make the game inside-out. It has to start with our bigs,” said Wiley. “We became unselfish as a team.”
The Flex didn’t let up in the fourth pushing the lead out as far as 25, so the only drama left was would Bocot extend his 30-point game streak. He entered the final quarter with 19 points. It appeared as though he would not make it when he and his fellow starters were pulled from the game with the Flex up 25 still sitting at 29 points. However, Wiley sent his guard back out to get his bucket and Bocot left the floor once again to a standing ovation from his home crowd.
On a disappointing night for the RiverSharks there were a few bright spots. Hogg finished with 18 points and was hurt by time missed to foul trouble. DeWitt finished in double figures again for St. Louis notching 14 points and 8 rebounds. The newcomer, Booker, also finished in double digits with 13 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in very limited time. Booker had 5 fouls by halftime. Fellow forward James Hicks was the final RiverShark that cracked 10 points with his 12.
Possibly the highlight of the night came on St. Louis’ final points of the ballgame. Guard Kenny McGowen hit a corner 3, was fouled, and hit the free throw to complete a 4-point play.
St. Louis– once 3-0, now 3-2 after a two-game mini skid—finds themselves looking up at the Flex (2-1) and the Champaign Swarm (2-0) in the standings. The RiverSharks, now done with their mini three-game road trip, will be back in action Jan. 24 for an afternoon game against the Gateway Steam at the Family Arena.
(Photo Credit: Mick Lite)
Follow me on Twitter, @TimJKaiser