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Brett Frerichs usually doesn’t like to go ballistic on his Rantoul Township High School boys basketball team.
In the Eagles’ locker room after a 79-65 home loss to nonconference foe Charleston on Jan. 15, though, the voice of Frerichs reverberated through the closed door and out into the quiet hallway.
Not pleased is one way to describe how the Eagles’ head coach felt after the 14-point loss to the Trojans. Disgusted is probably more like it.
“Without a doubt,” Frerichs said when asked if this was the worst he had seen RTHS play all season. “Even getting back in the game, we played soft. We played uninspired. We had no defense. I’m not taking anything away from Charleston. We knew coming in they could shoot the ball. We knew they could put up points, and we knew they would attack us. We just didn’t come out with that intensity.”
After two days of practice that focused mainly on defensive responsibilities, the Eagles came through with a 72-62 win on Friday night at Corn Belt Conference opponent Bloomington Central Catholic to end a two-game slide.
RTHS (9-11, 3-5 Corn Belt) hosted Pontiac on Tuesday night (result unavailable at press time) before it hosts Prairie Central at 7:30 p.m. this Friday.
“Honestly, I don’t feel like we’re getting better,” Frerichs said. “We’ve pretty much plateaued out, and we’re going to get back to killing ourselves on defense.”
That wasn’t the case against Charleston (12-6), which edged RTHS 62-60 on Dec. 27.
The Trojans darted out to a 20-3 lead in the game’s first five minutes and had three players finish in double figures, led by senior Truston Winnett’s game-high 23 points. Senior guard Zach Steidl added 17 points while senior forward Ethan Miller added 14 points.
“We’ve got to go forward,” RTHS senior forward Greg Morrow said. “There’s a lot of things we need to work on with defense, and we need to box out better. We need to stay in the game more.”
Winnett hurt the Eagles at the free throw line. The shifty guard finished 14-of-16 at the foul line, and the points he produced standing alone 15 feet from the basket equaled the team-high 14 points apiece RTHS junior guards Johnny Jones and James Coleman finished with.
“Coach was really upset,” Coleman said. “Just coming out of the game, we had a slow start, and then we used all the energy in the second quarter, we came out tired in the third quarter. The intensity slowed back down in the third quarter when we needed to get back in the game.”
Despite their lethargic start, the Eagles did ratchet up their play in the second quarter. Morrow (11 points, nine rebounds), Coleman and senior forward Damontae Space (six points, six rebounds) played a key role in making sure RTHS cut into its sizable deficit.
Two baskets by Morrow, including one after he forced a steal, and two free throws by Space in the final minute of the quarter allowed the Eagles to close out the first half on a 6-0 run and only trail 49-45 after the first 16 minutes.
“We got back in it because (Charleston) tired a little bit,” Frerichs said. “It wasn’t because we stopped them on defense. The only reason they didn’t score 100 was because they slowed it down at the end. We made some buckets, got the crowd into it and made a nice run, but we didn’t play defense the whole night.”
A layup by Coleman to open the third quarter trimmed Charleston’s lead to 49-47, and the Eagles were within one, 51-50, after Morrow scored with 6:05 left.
But Charleston responded with a 13-2 run during the next two minutes, sparked by 3-pointers from Steidl and junior guard Alex Gowin (eight points), to go ahead 65-52 with 3:40 left in the third quarter. RTHS trailed by double digits the rest of the game.
Junior guard Talon Hardin chipped in 10 points for the Eagles. He and senior forward Weylin Williams were two RTHS starters who fouled out.
Williams picked up his fifth infraction with 1:04 left in the third quarter while Hardin met the same fate with 5:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Frerichs played 14 players during the game’s first half, constantly trying to settle on a rotation of players he could depend on. Two months into the season and with Class 3A postseason play a month away, it’s a spot he did not want to find himself in.
“Coach is really big on that,” Coleman said. “He said he doesn’t have a starting rotation yet, and he’s trying to find everyone’s role on the team. It’s all about who’s playing defense. We know how to play defense. We go through it in practice, but we don’t show it in the game. We just have to bring it to the game and bring the intensity.”
It would help if the Eagles brought their shooting touch to the games, too.
RTHS finished 27-of-72 (38 percent) from the field, including a porous 3-of-22 (14 percent) from 3-point range.
The Eagles made all their 3-pointers in a 50-second span in the second quarter that helped decrease their deficit from 40-25 to 44-34 when Coleman drained a trey.
But after Coleman’s 3-pointer with 2:55 left in the second quarter, RTHS missed its final 12 3-point attempts.
“We settled a lot,” Frerichs said. “Those weren’t easy threes. We shot 22 threes, but most of them were contested or off-balance. Rarely did we catch it, get our feet set and shoot. You’re going to shoot a bad percentage when you settle or don’t run an offense. We just played one-on-one too much and had too much dribbling. We constantly tell them to get rid of the ball and get into an offense, but we still want to play street ball. We want to take our man one-on-one and just dribble the basketball.”
The season is by no means done for the Eagles despite their sloppy and inconsistent play on Jan. 15.
But it’s a warning sign they need to address and take care of before the 3A Champaign Centennial Regional arrives that features the host Chargers, Champaign Central, Mahomet-Seymour and Urbana.
“I’ve got to find five guys that play with heart and guts for a full 32 minutes,” Frerichs said. “We’re just going to keep rotating guys in until they show us they can play with that fire. We go on the court, and it looks like we’re going to a job and going to work as opposed to having fun and playing with that fire.”