Undefeated Richland County (Olney) Tigers understand their roles; Kennard leading Mt. Carmel

There’s nothing particularly flashy about what the Richland County (Olney) Tigers do. No magic tricks were needed to defeat the Mt. Carmel Aces 52-40, as Chase Travis and the Tigers improved to 18-0 and grabbed full control of the Little Illini Conference race.

Sophomore guard Ian Winkler and senior guard Drew Blank each scored a game-high 15 points, including some early buckets when Mt. Carmel was having some offensive success in the first half. Blank hit timely shots and a number of Tigers stepped up at the free throw line. 

With the game still hanging in the balance with 1:10 to go, junior guard Dawson Brown drilled a three-pointer right in front of the Tiger bench to put the Tigers up 46-40.

Senior wing Chase Travis, despite being held relatively in-check — Travis is averaging 20.1 points per game after scoring 12 Friday — has seen his teammates make timely plays again and again as the Tigers (18-0, 5-0 LIC) have won eight games by single digits. He had the go-ahead assist that put the Tigers up 42-40 and helped Olney end the game on a 14-0 run.

Richland County continues to find ways to get the job done, and keep its undefeated stretch going. 

“In the season and times that we live in right now, there are so many things able to go wrong with quarantining and things that we have had some keys guys miss games,” Travis said. “And we are so deep that we still win when we don’t have everyone or [are] not at 100 percent.

“I think we have different guys for different situations, so one night might call for other guys that provide more strength and toughness, while the next night will require a little more outside shooting,” Travis continued. “And I think people understand these roles and step up when it is their time.”

Travis has become one of southern Illinois’ top producers, showing an all-around game that frequently has him finishing smoothly and efficiently at the rim.

“The most important thing for me is the off-season work I put in, working on my game both on the court and a bunch of work in the weight room,” Travis said. “But last year helped me a lot because we had no seniors so I got to step up last year and fill that role.”

Defeating Mt. Carmel Friday in a raucous environment, gave the battle-tested Tigers another boost of confidence. 

“We need(ed) to be ready for them to give us everything they have, and we have to play well because life on the road is tough,” Travis said.  “So staying mentally tough is one of the biggest things we try and keep at the forefront of everything we do. But with all that being said, we did beat them twice and we have a really good all-around team, so there is still a confidence with that that needs to be brought to the game.”


The Tigers’ best overall state finish in coach Rob Flanagan’s tenure, a stretch that dates back to 1998, was third in 2A in 2008. The Tigers’ last regional title, which was in 2A, came in the 2011-12 season.

This year, Richland County is one of the smaller 3A programs in the state at 735 students. The cut-off for 3A currently for basketball is (685.1) and over.

As for Travis, his goals going forward remain simple. 

“Just keep showing up each game to give ourselves a chance to win,” Travis said. “A goal of mine has always been to be a part of the first 3A regional championship team at Olney.”


Mt. Carmel got 10 points from Blayne Sisson and 9 each from Gage Kennard and Gavin Smith. Smith in particular came through with timely buckets in the second half that gave Mt. Carmel life and several early fourth-quarter leads.

Kennard has been the team’s primary scorer, filling up the hoop to the tune of 22 points per game. 

“He has started since he was a freshman and has always been a great shooter, but this year he has really added a lot to his game,” Aces coach Tyler Buss said. “He’s scoring in a variety of different ways for us.” 

Buss said the team is at its best when wearing opponents down with its defense and pressure. That has led to strong second halves of play for the Aces.

Of the Aces’ five losses, three have come to Olney. The two squads could play a fourth time, as the Little Illini Conference Tournament looms. 

“We need to get back to what got us off to a great start,” Buss said. “We have hit a rough patch and we are really going to rely on our upperclassmen to lead us through this. We need to be more consistent on the offensive end. Not just shooting the ball but paying attention to detail and just cleaning up a lot of our actions. I really feel that at its best, this team is good enough to win a regional and sectional. But we have also shown if we don’t bring it on both ends we could get beat by just about anyone.”

This story has been updated with quotes from Aces coach Tyler Buss.


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