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The first two possessions of the fourth quarter ended with buckets for the Prairie Central boys basketball team.
Big buckets. A 3-pointer by senior guard Kyler Hoffman and a smooth-looking jump shot from senior Addison Bounds.
For RTHS, quite the contrary.
The Eagles had two turnovers in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter, which turned a four-point deficit at the start of the quarter into a 68-59 home loss Friday night against the Hawks in Corn Belt Conference action.
“It was a big momentum turn there,” RTHS head coach Brett Frerichs said. “Then they started playing keep away, and they’re a very smart, experienced team. We tried to double, and they burned us on some doubles for some open looks. We’ve got to value possessions a little bit better. They’ve got our number.”
The Hawks (13-7, 5-4 Corn Belt) won for the third time this season against the Eagles, with all wins coming by single digits, but wins nonetheless.
“Everybody’s got somebody, for whatever reason, that they have a struggle with, and I guess this year for Rantoul, it’s us,” Prairie Central head coach Rick Schertz said. “For whatever reason, we match up well with Rantoul.”
Especially when Hoffman found his inner Steve Kerr.
The 5-foot-9 guard drained six 3-pointers en route to a team-high 26 points. His sixth and final trey from the right wing only 18 seconds into the fourth quarter gave Prairie Central a 50-43 lead, and the Eagles (10-12, 4-6) could never trim their deficit past six points the rest of the game.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be a tough game, and they were going to fight,” Hoffman said. “I was just feeling really good before the game.”
Johnny Jones must have too. The RTHS junior guard was a one-man offensive show at times, dropping in a career-high 33 points.
Jones made three 3-pointers and constantly beat his defender off the dribble, but was the only RTHS player to finish in double figures.
“He started off on fire, and we were like, ‘Oh, geez. What do we do?’” Schertz said. “We tried to switch off on him, and he didn’t shoot real well for a little stretch, but he came back in like good players do. We tried to double him a little bit in the second half, but they’re such a good offensive rebounding team, somebody’s going to score off an offensive rebound.”
Not enough, however, for RTHS to take a three-game winning streak into this Friday’s 7 p.m. tip at Eureka.
RTHS blew out Pontiac 78-52 on Jan. 22 at home to stretch its winning streak to two before the loss to Prairie Central.
“We’re just a young team,” Jones said. “We’ll get there.”
Jones single-handedly brought RTHS back into the game in the third quarter.
Trailing 35-27 at halftime, Jones went on a personal 7-0 run in the first 90 seconds of the quarter that showed off his diverse skill set with a layup, a medium-range jumper and a long-range 3-pointer to tie the game at 35 with 6:30 left in the quarter.
“I knew they couldn’t stop me from going to the hole, but I kind of settled for too many shots,” Jones said. “My game plan coming in was to attack them off the dribble. It (stinks) losing to them three times in a row, especially since we won’t get to play them until next year.”
Aside from Hoffman’s standout game, Bounds (16 points, six rebounds) and senior guard Lane Maurer (11 points) stood out for Prairie Central, which sealed the win by making 8-of-10 at the foul line (16-of-22 for 73 percent for the game) in the final 1:30.
The Hawks only turned the ball over nine times and shot 22-of-42 (53 percent) from the field, including 6-of-6 in the fourth quarter, while connecting on 8-of-18 (44 percent) from 3-point range.
“We’ve got to have a second and even a third option because teams have been putting two guys on Bounds,” Schertz said. “The kids did a great job of sharing the ball. We knew (Rantoul was) going to come after us. They did. They played hard and played well. We were fortunate to come out with a win.”
For the first time in Frerichs’ three seasons with the Eagles, RTHS tried a gimmick defense, putting junior guard James Coleman on Bounds as the Eagles tried a box-and-one defense for the first few minutes of the second half.
The strategy didn’t seem to negatively affect Prairie Central, though.
“They didn’t miss very much,” Frerichs said. “You put so much emphasis on Bounds ... and their guards are smart players. They know where to spot up on the floor and how to get set. They knocked down some big shots against us.”
RTHS — which received nine points from Coleman and six points from junior guard Tanner McLain along with nine rebounds from senior forward Greg Morrow while junior guard Talon Hardin sat out with the flu — made 22-of-56 (39 percent) from the field, including 6-of-24 (25 percent) from beyond the arc.
The 3-point struggles surfaced in the fourth quarter when RTHS was only 2-of-10 outside of 19 feet in a comeback attempt that didn’t materialize.
The Eagles were 7-of-11 (64 percent) at the free throw line and committed 12 turnovers.
“We didn’t get in a rhythm,” Frerichs said. “It was a weird game. Every time I thought we’d go on a run, they’d hit a big shot. Johnny had a great game obviously, but we came up with some horrible possessions where we pulled up for a three or a quick shot. We couldn’t get that run going.”
Notes: After Friday’s game at Eureka, the Eagles will host Mahomet-Seymour at 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday. RTHS edged the Bulldogs 77-75 in overtime on Dec. 14 in Mahomet.
— In the win against Pontiac, Jones paced the Eagles with a team-high 20 points while McLain added 17 points.
Junior guard Josh Oliveras (10 points), Morrow (nine points) and Coleman (eight points) also chipped in for RTHS, which trailed 15-14 at the end of the first quarter but led 31-23 at halftime and 53-37 to start the fourth quarter.