No fly zone; Ironmen defense strong in Holiday Classic Championship victory

The Ironmen are State Farm Holiday Classic champions after earning their fourth win in as many days with a 40-38 victory over the East St. Louis Flyers.

After the third quarter ended with the Ironmen up 27-22, the fourth quarter was a back and forth battle.

Tyler Dwinal (‘22) and Famious French (‘22) each finished shots in the paint to end a 7-0 Flyers run and put Community up 31-27 early in the fourth. 

From there, both sides traded buckets, leaving the score 39-38 in favor of Community with 12 seconds left and the Flyers with the ball.

East St. Louis wanted the ball in the hands of guard Christian Jones, a University of Missouri commit, who led the Flyers with 12 points. As Jones drove into the lane, Dwinal stepped in front to take his third charge of the day.

Dwinal expected Jones to take the shot and was prepared to set his feet, “take this charge, and seal the game,” he said.

The offensive foul on Jones gave the Ironmen possession with 2.5 seconds left. French was fouled and split a pair of free throws at the line, leaving the Flyers with one final possession in which they weren’t able to get up a shot in time.

East St. Louis’ 38 total points was 26 points below their season average, a testament to Community’s stifling defense. 

The Flyer’s duo of Jones and Macaleab Rich, who had combined to average 38 points per game throughout the Holiday Classic, were held to half of that in the championship match. 

The Ironmen used a combination of French, Zach Cleveland (‘22,) and Crofton Perry (‘22) to defend the pair. 

On the offensive end, Cleveland was the lone Ironmen in double figures with 14. At the conclusion of the contest, Cleveland was named to the Holiday Classic Large School All-Tournament team, along with Jones and Rich of East St. Louis.

Cleveland averaged 18 points over the course of Community’s four tournament wins, in addition to strong defense and rebounding.

The first place finish marks the seventh all-time for the Ironmen in the Holiday Classic, with the most recent coming in 2017.

The win also ties Coach Dave Witzig for first on the all time list of Holiday Classic Tournament coaching victories with 57. 

The Ironmen will carry a seven game win streak into their next game, a road contest against Morton, Witzig’s alma mater, on Jan. 4.