Vermilion County Tournament Preview: Armstrong boys look to rebound from two nail-biting losses

ARMSTRONG — It’s been a frustrating month for Deon Mennenga and the Armstrong-Potomac boys basketball team.

The Trojans (4-14) have not relished victory since a Dec. 11 win over Schlarman, losing eight straight, with the first six games in the losing streak coming by an average of 28 points.

You would be hard-pressed, however, to get the Trojans head coach to feel pessimistic about his squad’s prospects at making a strong run in this week’s Vermilion County tournament at the David S. Palmer Arena in Danville.

Why such a glass-half-full disposition? Simple. The No. 5 seed Trojans in the seven-team pool play format are finally close to full strength upon the return of two starters from suspension, and they are coming off their two best games of the season in losses to Hoopeston Area and Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin.

“To say that we’re the darkhorse is probably an understatement,” Mennenga said. “To be honest with you, I don’t think there’s a team in our pool that would want to play us right now again, just for the simple fact that we are putting things together, and we’re going to play hard. That’s two dangerous things when it comes to a one-and-done situation.”

For a team that holds losses by scores of 76-27 and 75-26 to Cissna Park this season (albeit one of the best teams in Class 1A that has aspirations of winning a state championship), it’s a bright outlook ahead of the tournament, but Mennenga comes by it honestly.

A-P lost to the tournament’s No. 2 seed Hoopeston 66-57 on Jan. 4 after holding a one-point on the Cornjerkers (10-8) with less than two minutes remaining. The Trojans followed up with a 55-48 loss to No. 3 BHRA on Jan. 8 after trailing by three with less than a minute left against the Blue Devils (10-7).

The Trojans’ first two opponents of the tournament? BHRA at 5:15 p.m. Saturday and Hoopeston at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.  

“The expectation is to try and win every game, but realistically, if we can get a couple wins out of this, I think it’ll be big for us,” Mennenga said. “In our pool, do I think we can play with everybody? Absolutely. Within the last couple weeks, we’ve proved that. If you want to say moral victories, we’ve had a couple good moral victories, even though moral victories kind of stink. But we’ve got to crawl before we can walk.”

The loss to the Blue Devils included a comeback from down 17 points in the first half, and the Trojans were forced to put them at the free throw line in the waning possessions.

“They didn’t quit,” Mennenga said. “… You’ve got to be feeling better to put yourself in that position. It’s encouraging. We’ve got some younger kids showing up a bit more. Luke Gordon had a really good game. He’s a freshman and didn’t score, but he did some of the intangible things we’re looking for.

“We’re getting there. Hopefully we don’t run out of time before we do it, but I think the younger kids are seeing what it takes to win a game.”

The Trojans will also face No. 7 Georgetown-Ridge Farm (3-13) at 5 p.m. Wednesday and with a win would play a fourth game Saturday.

Leading the Trojans into the tournament is senior forward Dalton Loschen, one of the area’s top scorers who put up 29 and 26 points, respectively, in the last two losses.

“You’ve got to take care of the basketball and get the proper people the ball in the very best position for them to succeed. Just really basic stuff that we don’t take care of sometimes,” Mennenga said. “Taking care of the ball in crucial times. Again, you can say the same thing of taking care of the ball in the first quarter. It doesn’t come down to the last possession. There are multiple possessions throughout the game where you could’ve had a four- or five-point swing.”

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

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