Eagles unable to respond as BCC dominates second half in 'championship game' atmosphere

BLOOMINGTON — Tommy Nelson and Luke Yoder have been sensational all season as the leaders of the Bloomington Central Catholic boys basketball team.

But during the first half of Friday night’s showdown against Rantoul, the Saints’ one-two punch was abnormally quiet. Nelson accumulated eight points, and Yoder struggled to an 0-for-4 mark without reaching the scoring column.

That changed immediately in the second half, as the two came out firing to turn a two-point halftime lead into a 65-45 rout in favor of Class 2A’s No. 5-ranked team.

Nelson finished with a game-high 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting and did not miss until less than seven minutes remained in the game. Yoder finished with just nine points, but he sparked a 20-6 run to open the third quarter. The dominant period pushed the Saints (16-5, 4-0) into sole possession of first place in the Illini Prairie Conference over the Eagles (9-12, 3-1).  

“We came out just really flat in the second half,” Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs said. “It’s frustrating because we viewed this as a championship game. I don’t see anybody beating BCC (in the conference). This was a chance to really control our own destiny, and we came out of the locker room really flat. Our seniors came out and turned the ball over. We just didn’t really show any leadership. It surprised me that we didn’t bring a little bit more tonight.”

On back-to-back possessions to start the third period, Yoder converted buckets on drives to the rim, and on the third Saints possession, the point guard found fellow senior Nelson for another quick basket.

Nelson then banked-in a backdoor layup, and Yoder hit a floater for an eight-point lead. The Eagles briefly switched to a 1-2-2 zone and forced a turnover, but Yoder stole the ball right back and made one of two free throw attempts for a 37-28 edge.

The senior came up with another steal on Rantoul’s ensuing possession. Instead of forcing a transition shot attempt among three Eagles defenders, Yoder waited patiently for trailing teammate JT Welch, who buried a long three-pointer while being fouled, and the sophomore converted the four-point play.

After another turnover — the Saints forced 17 in the game; seven in the third period — Cole Davis drained a three-pointer for a commanding 44-28 lead with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the quarter to put the game out of reach. Nelson added a baseline jumper from an angle slightly behind the backboard at the buzzer for a 48-33 advantage.

“This is a hard team to defend,” Frerichs said. “They have so many weapons. We just wanted to make them uncomfortable on the defensive end. We had a couple guys who took possessions off, and against a team this good you can’t take possessions off. They were really burning us, and we dug ourselves a hole. Once you get down to this team, it’s really hard to come back.

“It’s frustrating. It’s a situation a lot of these guys haven’t been in where the conference is on the line. … More than anything, their experience showed in the second half, and our inexperience showed. They came out and really executed. That’s what an experienced team does. This is a third-place team we’re talking about, and I’d put my money on them to win a state championship this year.”

Rantoul was unable to get consistent ball pressure on an experienced, composed Saints backcourt that is coming off a third-place finish in the 2A state tournament last season.  

Once the Eagles got down double digits, they began doubling the ball more. But BCC was able to smoothly neutralize the double teams to find open looks. The Saints also used ball screens effectively, as the Rantoul defenders failed to hedge, creating mismatches on the perimeter and in the post.

“Once you get down to this team, they don’t make many mistakes, and they don’t turn the ball over,” Frerichs said. “We tried to force the action with doubles, and they made us pay for it.”

The Eagles received 12 points from Latavius Winston and 10 points from Kamryn Rome, and the team finished 19-for-44 from the field (4-for-17 on three-pointers; 7-of-10 on free throws). The Saints committed just nine turnovers and were not called for a second-half foul until the 7:27 mark of the fourth quarter.

“We had a game plan, but it wasn’t executed because we didn’t run anything very crisp tonight. They took us out of a lot of sets, and we didn’t read the defense,” Frerichs said.

In the first quarter, Nelson scored on an easy backdoor layup on a baseline out-of-bounds play for an early 6-4 lead to force a timeout from Frerichs. The Eagles responded, as Rome converted a nice pass from Angelo Brown down low.

Keyon Button’s putback two minutes later knotted the score at nine, and Rome’s three-pointer on a fast-break pass from Button gave Rantoul a 12-11 lead with less than 25 seconds remaining.

Rome, however, was assessed a technical foul for talking back to the BCC student section, and once Frerichs heard the official’s explanation for the call, the animated coach was incensed and was issued his own technical. The Saints made three of the four free throws for a 14-12 lead at the end of the quarter.

In the second stanza, Rome’s driving layup-free throw combo on an “and-one” play cut the Eagles’ deficit to 22-18. Brown later muscled in a layup over the front of the rim on a hard drive, and Winston’s drop-step bucket in the lane in the final 30 seconds put Rantoul down 24-22 at halftime.

It was tough for the Eagles’ ball handlers to find any room to work Friday night, notably freshman point guard Jimmy Nixon.

“Jimmy really struggled. This was a big test for him,” Frerichs said. “We’re putting a lot in his hands, and unfortunately, he reverted back to being a freshman. He saw some adversity, and he let it affect him. That hurt us, and he’s done such an incredible job for us, getting us into our offense. He struggled tonight, and it showed because we haven’t had anybody step up to run the point after him.”

Friday night’s contest is the first of a difficult three-game stretch for the Eagles, who face Moline on Saturday (weather pending) and Urbana on Tuesday.

That stretch comes following a 68-54 win over Monticello on Tuesday in which Hayden Cargo (game-high 18 points), Nixon (15), Rome (11) and Winston (11) led a balanced scoring effort.

It was the Eagles’ seventh win in their last eight games, a hot stretch that helped them save a season that could have started to quickly go south after they opened the year losing 10 of their first 12.  

“I was definitely optimistic (after the 2-10 start), and even some of those early games we played against Mahomet, Morton and some of those other teams, I think we would fare better against them the second time around,” Frerichs said. “We didn’t show (against BCC) how well we’ve been playing in this eight-game stretch. We got down and just didn’t fight back like we should’ve, and the better team won tonight.

“This was a bump in the road, and hopefully we learn from it. We’ve got to come back quick Saturday and Tuesday.”

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

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