Eagles come out hot in second half, upset Prairie Central on the road

FAIRBURY — Renee Reed didn’t have much to say to her team at halftime Thursday night.

The first-year Rantoul coach’s team trailed by one point, but the reason for the deficit was easily correctable for her girls basketball team against Prairie Central.

Rantoul was simply affording the Hawks too many second-chance opportunities, leading to a plethora of trips to the free throw line.

The Eagles led by 10 points midway through the second quarter. Too many fouls, however, sent PC to the charity stripe over and over, and it capitalized with a 14-3 run over the final 3 minutes, 30 seconds of the first half.

Reed’s message to her team? It was a brief one. The Eagles came back out of the locker room with nearly seven minutes still remaining out of the 10-minute intermission.

“It was very short and sweet,” Reed said. “I just told them that (Prairie Central’s) points came from free throws. If you stop the free throws, box out and stop giving them second-chance opportunities, from there we’re good. Just stop fouling because that’s where all the points were scored. Offensively, we were doing fine, and defense we were doing fine except for not boxing out, which gave them second chances and put them in the bonus early on. That was my biggest thing. I didn’t have many other comments to give them because, overall, they were doing fairly good.”

The Eagles, who committed their eighth foul of the first half at the 3:05 mark of the first quarter and fouled 15 times in the half, responded to Reed’s pleas. They committed just one foul through the first four minutes of the third quarter, and they used seven points from Tanaya Young, seven forced turnovers and a 7-for-14 shooting performance from the field during an 18-4 run in the third quarter of a 55-43 upset victory.

The visiting Eagles (7-14, 2-5 IPC) ended a six-game losing streak behind a 24-for-43 shooting performance and scoring outputs by Young (15 points), Myejoi Williams (10) and Courtney Sutherland (nine), and the Hawks (12-13, 2-4) committed 27 turnovers in the loss.

“The difference, like I told them before, was all (Prairie Central’s) points came at the free throw line,” Reed said. “If we cut the free throws, we’re up 15 points, maybe, going into the second half. We were up (10) points, and their last 12 points were free throws. We kept digging a hole, and I asked, ‘How are we going to get out of it?’ And they responded well, and I think (PC) didn’t really have an answer for (Williams). Granted, she wasn’t our leading scorer, but offensively and rebounding and having her presence made a big difference for us. Overall, collectively as a group they bought in. There wasn’t any negativity going on. They were just ready to go.”

Rantoul was just as sloppy with the ball as the Hawks, but the Eagles were still able to survive committing 30 turnovers, including 12 in the opening period.

Helping the Eagles during the varsity contest was loud, sometimes boisterous cheering from the junior varsity players sitting behind the bench. Their support gave the Rantoul players on the floor a little extra juice, and they responded.

“Like I tell them all the time, it takes everybody. We need them all. It’s not just about if you play JV or varsity,” Reed said. “The energy was higher than we’ve had the whole season, honestly. Like I tell them all the time, you need to get that energy (yourself) because (the coaches) can’t always be the ones to get you going. You have to believe in yourself, and your teammates need to help with that process. I think they played a big part in it. I’m glad they were able to set their own emotions aside from their own game. Definitely appreciate them.”

In a messy, sloppy and slow first quarter that lasted 20 minutes in real time, the Eagles shot 6-for-9. But seven turnovers in the first four minutes forced a timeout from Reed with her team trailing 5-2, and the Hawks missed five consecutive free-throw attempts.

Sutherland’s first of three three-pointers on the night knotted the score at 7 with 2:30 left. Then, a two-point jumper by Young, a Young layup set up by Williams’ one-handed outlet pass and a drop-step layup by Williams gave Rantoul a 13-11 lead at the end of the stanza.

Sparking a 10-0 Eagles run to open the second quarter was a two-point bucket by Williams. Sutherland buried another three, and Kianna Berlatsky-Gorrell nailed a 12-footer and a trey for a 23-13 lead. After Young netted a fast-break layup for a 25-15 advantage, the Hawks used the free throw line to carry them to a 29-28 halftime edge.

In the half, Rantoul kept it to the one-point deficit by shooting 12-for-24 and forcing 13 turnovers despite committing 20 giveaways of its own.

With the energy from the JV players backing them, the Eagles blitzed PC out of the second-quarter gate, starting with a Williams drop-step into a basket off the glass.

Sutherland and Young then hit threes on back-to-back possessions, Young went glass on a floater, and Jaz-Meon McClyde converted a bucket off a nifty pass from Emma Mihaly for a 40-31 lead at the 2:40 mark.

McClyde hit two free throws 30 seconds later, Jada Mosley turned a steal at midcourt into a fast-break layup, and Young polished off the period with her final bucket of the night for a 46-33 lead.

Rantoul, which finished just 3-for-11 at the free throw line, cruised in an uneventful fourth quarter.

The win was the first for Rantoul since a 50-37 victory over Illinois Valley Central Jan. 5. Since then, the Eagles have allowed an average of 61.8 points per game and scored 29.3 in their six losses and have been outscored 371-176 — including 65-24 to Bloomington Central Catholic, 85-32 to Urbana, 51-19 to Champaign Central and 63-24 to St. Joseph-Ogden. Taking those lumps forced Reed to switch her approach with her team.

“This game definitely showed growth, and they trusted each other,” Reed said. “That’s been our biggest thing all year — just them not trusting or believing in themselves. I tell them all the time we can’t play teams and expect to score just 20 points a game. The last couple games, the way we’ve been losing, has definitely been an eye opener. I changed my tone with them and have just been a little more calm, and I’ve told them, ‘Do you guys want to go out with more wins, or stay where you’re at and be complacent?’

“So many of them focus on last year, and I try to tell them, this is not last year or the year before. You should still want more than the previous years. It’s a constant reminder of me trying to tell them to believe in themselves and trust each other. They’ve bought into that, and hopefully from here we can keep continue to keep performing and build off of this.”

Rantoul will find its postseason seeding at approximately 4 p.m. Thursday, and its first matchup will be announced approximately 4 p.m. Friday via the IHSA website.

“If we cut the turnovers, play smart and just have that confidence that I’ve been pretty much preaching from the beginning,” Reed said, “I think it’ll definitely help us as heading into regionals.”

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

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