Eagles hold off Fisher behind Williams' double-double

FISHER — When the Rantoul girls basketball team took a 36-20 lead over Fisher with 6 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of a nonconference game Saturday, it looked like the Eagles would breeze to a victory.

It was a slow-paced, low-scoring affair, and with Fisher struggling to convert buckets throughout the afternoon, the 16-point lead seemed like a 25-point advantage.

But the Bunnies battled back, going on an 11-1 run to trim their deficit to one point following a three-pointer by Kylee Bishop and a bucket by Sidney Hood with 1:20 left.

On back-to-back possessions following missed free throws by the Eagles, Hood got a pair of good, open looks from three but missed from the wing and baseline, and two free throws with less than 10 seconds remaining by Myejoi Williams (12 points, 11 rebounds) iced away a 39-31 win for Rantoul.

“Overall, we did well,” Rantoul coach Renee Reed said. “We got too comfortable with that 16-point lead and tried to take a step back and just chill, and I told them we can’t get comfortable because anything can happen. But, overall, I appreciate them and their effort. We pushed through adversity, and overall I am pleased with the effort they gave.”

There was a lid on the basket going both ways Saturday, as Rantoul (10-for-53) and Fisher (10-for-35) each struggled to convert open shots. Both clubs struggled with ball security as well, with Rantoul committing 21 turnovers and Fisher committing 20 turnovers.

The biggest difference came at the free throw line, where Rantoul finished 12-for-22 after starting 9-for-12, but the Bunnies finished 9-for-27. And Hood, the area’s second-leading scorer at 20.8 points per game, was limited to 12 points after struggling with her shot.

“We tried to get Sidney more involved and put her in some different spots,” Fisher coach Ken Ingold said. “We tried to get her in the middle in their zone trap. I thought that helped us because she did get a basket right around the free throw line, and then she got fouled a couple times shooting right around there. What are we going to tell her? Don’t shoot? She was 0-for-7 from three-point, but she’ll make them. She’s one of the better shooters in the area, so we’ll be fine.”

In the first half, the Eagles (5-4) were effective moving the ball quickly around the perimeter against the Bunnies’ 2-3 zone.

“I told them to just work the ball,” Reed said. “If you work the ball, it’s going to open up the court. The defense is going to get tired of moving, and if you just work it and be patient, any shot you want will pretty much come to you. We’re trying to be fast tempo, but right now we’re just setting a lot of plays because I’m trying to let them get the hang of things.”

Courtney Sutherland buried a pair of long three’s for Rantoul, paving the way for an 11-4 lead at the end of the first quarter.

In the second period, the Eagles used buckets in transition to break things open. Kianna Berlatsky’s steal and assist to Tanaya Young, followed by Young’s own steal and layup, helped give Rantoul a 19-6 lead. The Eagles entered the halftime break leading 22-13.

In the third quarter, the Bunnies (1-5) got several open looks, but time and again they clanked off the rim, as they finished 2-for-18 in the period. And despite shooting 2-for-13 from the field, the Eagles shot 4-for-4 on free throws to extend the lead to 30-19.

“I thought Rantoul came out and kind of took us out of what we wanted to do offensively in the first half,” Ingold said. “We made some adjustments, and I thought we really, really played well. That third quarter might be the best quarter we’ve played all year. We’re down by nine at half, and I look up at the end of the third quarter feeling like we’re playing well, and we’re down by 11.”

Though the Eagles struggled at the charity stripe in the final period, going 3-for-10 during a stretch in the quarter, they did enough to stave off the Bunnies and get some revenge for a 54-44 home loss to Fisher last season.

The win helped Rantoul bounce back following a 51-21 loss to Decatur St. Teresa last Monday, and it gave the Eagles some more confidence after going 4-1 and capturing third place at the season-opening Comet Classic in Oakwood.

“I think that’s really big for them. Getting that confidence is huge,” Reed said. “Last year, it seems like it was, ‘If I mess up, I’m done.’ They didn’t really have that push. Now, I’m coming in and demanding more and being consistent with what I want, including my coaching staff. (The players) see the relationship that we have amongst each other, and I think that rubs off on them.

“To come out 4-1 after losing 21 straight prior, we want to be able to continue to build off that and grow each day. I’m not looking to turn it around in a year, but I’m looking to make strides and continue to make it better. Definitely happy with the start. They’re slowly getting on board. Slowly but surely.”

For the Bunnies, it was a performance Ingold was happy with, and the coach was optimistic moving forward.

“I told our girls afterward I liked the way we battled. We hung in there and battled. It’s all about shooting,” Ingold said. “I don’t have any qualms with how we played in the second half. Rantoul, I thought their intensity and tenacity really gave us problems with what we wanted to do in the first half. In the second half, I thought they made some nice adjustments with that.

“Renee’s got them playing hard and playing well. Williams is a load. When they needed to get the ball to her for some key baskets in the fourth quarter, she came through, and she got some key offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, too. … I kept rotating my post players in there because she can draw some fouls. She’s quick off her feet. She’s really improved from the last couple years. They’re a good team. Because of their quickness and tenacity, they’re going to really compete with everybody. And their press is difficult because they come at you with so many different angles.”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

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