GIBSON CITY, Ill. -- With Mark Plunk out with an injury throughout the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Thanksgiving Tournament and three losses to start the season, the last two things Blue Ridge needed were another injured player and another loss.
Due to an ankle injury, however, Tucker Johnson (pictured above) was forced to spend most of the Knights' seventh-place game against the Falcons on the bench. Johnson would later be selected for the All-Tournament team.
Regardless of losing its leading scorer, Blue Ridge beat GCMS 73-65 thanks to a big scoring game from Michael Plunk and some solid post play from Clint O'Neal and company.
"I told the kids before the game there's a huge difference between 0-4 and 1-3," Blue Ridge coach Kyle Watson said. "[Going] 1-3 wasn't our goal when we came into this tournament, but obviously this morning, 1-3 was the best we could have done."
With the victory, the Knights got their first victory of the season after losing the first three games by a combined 70 points.
"That was a great test of character today without playing our game the first three games," Watson said. "I think we did play our game, more or less, tonight. I was very happy with how we responded today. Tucker going down with his ankle today gave some other guys a great opportunity to step up. That's a heck of an early-season test, and we finally passed this test. I was very proud of our kids' effort."
With Johnson out, Michael Plunk (pictured below) took over the scoring. He finished with 32 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter.
In the second quarter, Michael Plunk sank a 3-pointer before the halftime buzzer, giving Blue Ridge a 36-35 halftime lead. In the fourth quarter, his third 3-pointer of the game put the Knights ahead 64-63 with about two minutes left.
From there, Blue Ridge never trailed, scoring all of its next nine points via free throws. Michael Plunk finished the game converting on 13-of-16 free-throw attempts.
"Michael had a huge game for us," Watson said. "I know it's awfully hard with him being a sophomore, but I tell him it's almost as if he's playing like he's not a sophomore anymore. He definitely played like he wasn't a sophomore tonight. He played like he was a junior or senior. He's a tremendously gifted young man, he's a super young man in the classroom, and he'll be fun to coach over the next three years."
O'Neal (pictured below in black jersey) scored six of his 14 points via fourth-quarter free throws following Michael Plunk's go-ahead 3-pointer, including two that increased the Knights' lead to 66-63.
He also grabbed 10 rebounds to finish the game with a double-double.
Jon Jones helped Michael Plunk with the backcourt scoring, finishing the game with 11 points. After the Falcons' Jacob Jordan hit a jump shot to cut Blue Ridge's lead to 66-65, Jones hit two free throws to push the Knights' lead back to three points.
Josh Plunk came off the bench to complement O'Neal's frontcourt play in Johnson's absence. He grabbed four rebounds and came up with a crucial steal.
With Blue Ridge holding on to a 68-65 lead, a GCMS pass hit Ben Eads in the face, and the ball was loose as a result. Josh Plunk was there to scoop up the loose ball.
The ball was put in the hands of Travys Nichols, who sank two free throws to put the Knights up 70-65. As a team, Blue Ridge made 26-of-40 free-throw attempts.
"We did a great job of going inside to the post early," Watson said. "Clint O'Neal had a big game for us. Travys Nichols [was] getting fouled inside. Josh Plunk came off the bench and had some great play for us inside. That made them have to guard the post, so that opened the outside up even more for Jon Jones to get his points and for Michael [Plunk] to get his points."
On Tuesday, the Knights will take the momentum from their first win to their home court, where they will host Clinton.
"There's still some things we need to do to improve, but the kids know that they'll have to get back to work on Monday and get ready for an awfully tough Clinton team on Tuesday night," Watson said.
Watson said the status of Johnson for that game is uncertain.
"Our trainer was, obviously. with him most of the day," Watson said. "It depends on how much [the ankle] swells up. Hopefully, I'll have him for Tuesday. I'll obviously let the trainer re-evaluate him on Monday and let the trainer make the final decision."
Blue Ridge also has a rematch against the Falcons on December 16 in Gibson City.
"We have to come back to the same gym in less than three weeks and play [GCMS] again," Watson said. They're awfully tough; they play very well together and play very hard, so we're going to have to put the same effort, if not more, when we come back here in three weeks and do it all over again."
Blue Ridge 73, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 65