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In high-pressure situations last year, Johnny Jones had a tendency to force mistakes.
That wasn’t the case Friday night for the Rantoul Township High School boys basketball guard.
Fueled by spot-on 3-point shooting from the talented junior, the Eagles overcame a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to pull out a hard-fought and electrifying 77-75 Corn Belt Conference win at rival Mahomet-Seymour.
Jones poured in a team-high 23 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter to key the Eagles’ comeback that ended a six-game losing streak.
“Coach just told me to go out there and have fun,” Jones said. “That got to me, and I just took it to heart.”
Mahomet-Seymour had a chance to win the game at the buzzer.
Junior guard Sam Hohlfelder (game-high 26 points) unleashed a 3-pointer from 25 feet away on the right wing that hit the front rim and bounced off.
The Bulldogs (3-6, 1-2 Corn Belt) could not get up an offensive rebound attempt up before the buzzer sounded.
“With our luck over here, “ RTHS head coach Brett Frerichs said, “I didn’t feel good about it. It looked good when it left (Hohlfelder’s) fingertips.”
Frerichs was waiting for that type of performance from Jones, who missed the first six games because of an athletic code violation and academic ineligibility.
He made all five of his 3-point attempts, including his last one that tied the game at 64 with 33 seconds left in regulation.
“That’s the real Johnny Jones,” Frerichs said. “We were waiting for him to appear, and he appeared in the fourth quarter. He’s capable of that. He was that quarterback on the floor we’ve been looking for all year.”
Junior guard Devine Thompson added 10 points for the Eagles (4-6, 1-4), all of which came in the final five minutes of the game.
His 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:18 left in regulation cut the Eagles’ deficit to 63-61. He was just getting started.
Thompson scored the Eagles’ first six points of overtime, all on looks inside, to give the Eagles a 70-64 lead with 2:04 left.
“I just wanted to come out of here with a win,” Thompson said. “Hopefully we play like this every night. We got tired of hearing we don’t play like a team, so we went out there and played like one.”
Junior guard Talon Hardin added 13 points while junior forward Shane Starkey — making his first start of the season — produced 10 points in a steady showing.
Mahomet-Seymour senior forward Brad Herrmann scored 25 points, including five 3-pointers, but it wasn't enough in a win the Eagles desperately needed before starting the Taylorville Holiday Tournament on Wednesday, Dec. 26.
Frerichs shook up his starting lineup, benching Jones, Hardin and Thompson in favor of Starkey, junior guard Josh Oliveras (eight points), junior guard James Coleman (six points, three rebounds), senior guard Tom Wood and senior forward Greg Morrow (seven points, 10 rebounds).
In the end, Jones, Hardin and Thompson all were on the floor in the final seconds, with Jones making sure it was possible with his clutch shooting.
“That’s the Johnny that we want back,” Morrow said. “It was a different look for us, so we had to adjust to that and get our heads on straight. If we didn’t win this game, we probably would have been devastated.”