CHARLESTON -- The Charleston Bluejays defeated the visiting Meridian, Ill., Bobcats on Tuesday night, 71-37.
The Bluejays were without the services of senior point guard Shawn Sherrell, who is out until the seMissourian Christmas Tournament due to a hand injury.
Sophomore Antonio Riggens and senior Garyion Johnson picked up the slack for Charleston with a stellar first half by the Bluejay backcourt. Riggens had 15 points, including three 3-pointers and Johnson had all of his 10 points in the half to ignite the Bluejays to a 40-24 halftime lead.
"Shawn makes us go and without him we are going to have to concentrate on our defense," said Charleston head coach Danny Farmer. "Riggens did a super job tonight getting the offense going and playing good solid defense when we needed it."
Charleston did not press in the contest, but played solid half-court defense forcing the athletic Bobcats into 11 first half turnovers and 21 for the game. The Bluejays had 12 steals as a team, five by Riggens.
"The story of the game was our inability to handle their pressure," said Meridian head coach Jeff Mandrell. "We knew what to expect coming in and had practice for the pressure we would face. Of course, you can't duplicate Charleston's pressure in practice. We just couldn't handle their defense and we had way too many turnovers."
The Bluejays started the game off with a 11-2 run and took advantage of four Bobcat turnovers in the first three minutes of the first quarter.
Meridian rallied around 6-foot-6 junior Marland Johnson and 6-2 freshman Isiah Jones. With 11 points, Jones led the Bobcats in scoring and had eight points in the first half. Johnson is a very athletic center and led Meridian with nine rebounds and three blocks in the contest.
Charleston opened up a close game in the second quarter with a 9-0 run capped off by a breakaway two-handed jam by senior Justin Clark. The Bluejays led 35-18 and never where again challenged by the Bobcats. Riggens ended the first half for the Bluejays by hitting a 23-footer at the buzzer.
"I thought we did an okay job of playing defense early on," said Mandrell. "We got a little frustrated with their tough defense and just threw the ball away at times. We are going to have to learn from this game on how to handle pressure and execute."
The Bluejays were challenged in the paint by a tall and athletic Bobcat team, but Charleston got good play out of senior Jamarcus Williams who is still recovering from a broken leg suffered in football. Williams started for Charleston and ended his night with 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds (six offensive).
"Jamarcus played okay tonight," said Farmer, "super knowing that he is only 75 percent healthy right now. He tends to struggle right now with good leapers because of his leg. However, Jamarcus is still getting a lot of rebounds and that just shows you how hard he wants for us to win. He is not anywhere close to being healthy and he is usually the leading rebounder in every game he has played."
The Bluejays started the third quarter on a 9-1 run and led 49-25 with 5:56 to play in the third. Charleston iced the game by outscoring Meridian 23-10 in the quarter. A running clock was used for much of the fourth quarter and Charleston rolled to the 71-37 victory.
Charleston out rebounded Meridian (7-3) 34-23 and had 15 assists compared to the Bobcats four for the game. Riggens led the Bluejays with seven assists.
The Bluejays had all five starters score in double-digits, as 6-4 junior Brian Parham scored 14 points and Clark ended with 10 points and six rebounds. The Charleston home game with the Caruthersville Tigers set for Friday at 6 p.m. has been cancelled due to a school-wide sickness.
Charleston will not have school the rest of the week.
The Bluejays will be back in action on Saturday at the Heartland Hoopfest in Perryville. Charleston will face state power Webster Groves at 7:20 p.m. at the Perry Park Center.