Mitch Johnson had just completed a Vandalia comeback from a nine-point first-half deficit with a putback that tied the game at 27 early in the second half.
Carlyle, having fallen in love with the 3-point shot after making three of its first six attempts early, had just seen its 10th-consecutive heave from beyond the arc clang off the rim.
Barring something unforeseen, Vandalia appeared to have the edge down the stretch at home Tuesday night.
But when you’re struggling, the unforeseen becomes almost commonplace. And against Carlyle, it came in the form of a miraculous rediscovery of its 3-point stroke, as the Indians hit five of their next six attempts from beyond the arc, helping them pull away to a 63-54 win.
The Indians (3-3) actually couldn’t seem to miss from anywhere on the court after Johnson tied the game, as they hit 12 of 15 from the field in the game’s final 13 minutes.
Some untimely turnovers fueled the Indians surge, but ultimately, the Vandals took care of the ball fairly well, committing just 14 turnovers.
There were plenty of other positives, as Drew Bell scored 12 points off the bench and Mitch Johnson (14 points, five rebounds) and Will Cowger (13 points, five rebounds) continued to evolve into inside forces.
But victory No. 1 continues to elude the Vandals.
‘That’s a decent ballclub right there, and we’re playing them tight the whole way,’ Jackson said. ‘It gets old hearing it, but we’re getting better every night. That’s all we can do.’
The Vandals shot a very respectable 51 percent from the floor, but Carlyle countered with 54-percent shooting, including 8 for 22 shooting from the 3-point arc.
The Indians established control early on by hitting three trifectas in the first five minutes of the game. Matt Palm connected on a pair of those attempts, and was also a load inside.
He finished the first half with 13 of his game-high 18 points in the first half, adjusting to everything the Vandals threw his way on the defensive end.
‘That’s what a good player does,’ said Jackson, whose team opted to take the inside away from Palm early. ‘We knew it wasn’t like he couldn’t shoot it, but it’s like the worst of two evils.
‘Do you let him loose in the open court and let him try to beat you taking it to the hole, or do you try and make him beat you from 20 (feet)? We chose to make him try to beat us from outside, and he was good enough to step out and make that shot.’
The Vandals’ improving half-court offense produced 9 for 18 shooting in the first half, but six Carlyle offensive rebounds helped the Indians take a 27-21 lead into the locker room.
The Vandals scored the first six points of the second half, however, drawing even with the Indians at the 5:34 mark.
But Palm countered with a 3-pointer from the corner, foreshadowing things to come the rest of the half.
The Indians would go on to hit three more treys in the third quarter, maintaining a narrow advantage over the Vandals. They then opened up a 10-point advantage with a 6-0 spurt to start the fourth quarter.
The decisive run started with a steal and fast break bucket by Travis Issak. Josh Linton then countered a Vandals miss with a 3-pointer, and Carlyle took a commanding 46-36 lead as Tony Schaeffer found Palm inside for an easy bucket off dribble penetration.
Carlyle extended its lead to as 15 points in the closing minutes, but Vandalia refused to quit, cutting the lead to eight with inspired play down the stretch.
Unfortunately, the Vandals simply ran out of time.
‘The kids are working their rear ends off for us in practice. I think it’s showing on the floor,’ Jackson said. ‘Right now, we’re good enough to get close, but not quite good enough to get over the hump, unfortunately.’
Vandalia will return to action Thursday when it hosts Shelbyville. The Vandals will shoot for their first victory in the makeup of a game that was snowed out on Saturday.
‘For our sake, we need to come up with one somewhere for those guys,’ Jackson said.
The JV Vandals won their second straight earlier in the evening, edging the Indians, 46-41. Marty Johnson led the way with 13 points, while Quinn Phillips had 10. Angel Osorio chipped in eight.
Carlyle 14 13 12 24 – 63
Vandalia 11 10 15 18 – 54
Vandalia scoring – Ma. Johnson 3-3 0-1 6, Mi.Johnson 4-8 6-9 14, Wollerman 0-2 2-2 2, Bell 6-8 0-0 12, Cowger 6-9 1-4 13, Wasmuth 3-9 0-0 7, Durr 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 22-43 9-16 54.
Litchfield 59, Vandalia 40
Three bad quarters trumped one good one for the Vandals on Friday.
Vandalia outscored the host Purple Panthers 17-12 in the second period, turning the ball over just two times.
Unfortunately, the Vandals committed seven turnovers in the first quarter, contributing to a 14-5 deficit. And the turnover bug bit again in the second half, as the Vandals coughed the ball up 14 times, helping Litchfield pull away.
‘We did a good job of not turning the ball over and attacking their pressure in the second quarter,’ Jackson said. ‘Unfortunately, we decided to go away from that after that.’
The Vandals trailed by just two points, 26-24, after Mitch Johnson found Cowger in the lane for a bucket to start the second half, but it was all downhill after that.
Litchfield responded with a 14-2 run, with Vandalia turning the ball over on five of seven possessions at one point.
Dylan Durr hit three 3-pointers, finishing with a career-high nine points for Vandalia, while Mitch Johnson had seven points, 10 rebounds and four assists. But all told, it was a forgettable game for Vandalia.
‘We’re still not good enough to relax,’ Jackson said. ‘We have to put it together for four quarters.’
Vandalia 5 17 4 14 – 40
Litchfield 14 12 14 19 – 59
Vandalia scoring – Wasmuth 1-8 0-0 3, Mi.Johnson 3-5 1-1 7, Cowger 4-5 0-0 8, Ma.Johnson 1-7 3-5 5, Bell 3-7 2-4 8, Durr 3-4 0-1 9, Wollerman 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 15-39 6-11 40.