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By TIM EVANS
Press general manager
Using a quick-scoring transition game and solid defense, host Eureka downed Rantoul’s Eagles Friday night 76-51 in a key Cornbelt Conference clash.
The Hornets used a 17-point effort from junior forward Phil Schmidgall in the first half to roll to a commanding 33-19 halftime lead after Rantoul had come out early popping three-pointers to stage a comeback after the hosts had taken a 6-0 lead.
Juniors Johnny Jones, Devine Thompson and James Coleman all hit shots from behind the arc as Rantoul got back to within one, 10-9, but the fastbreaking Hornets flew to a 16-9 edge by 1:51 and ran the lead to 18-9 by the end of the first period, paced on six field goals by Schmidgall.
Rantoul struggled to score from inside as the hosts forced outside shots and eight first-half turnovers. Rantoul finally scored its first inside basket with about five minutes left in the half.
Rantoul fell behind even more by halftime as the Hornets used balanced scoring to erupt to a 15-10 second period showing before outscoring the Eagles by 10, 24-14 in the second period, getting hot from three-point land behind a pair from senior Vaughan Meiss early in the half along with seven points from Kyle Hardy. Jones scored five for the Eagles in the quarter.
Although Rantoul (10-13 on the season, 4-7 in the conference) got three buckets from Shane Starkey off the bench in the fourth quarter, Rantoul finished behind 19-18 in the final stanza to succumb to the 25-point loss. Cooper Scherer had six for the hosts in the final period.
“Eureka is a very good team,” Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs said after the game. “We just didn’t match their energy to start the game. We struggled on the defensive end all night.”
The coach said he wasn’t pleased with the fact his team “settled for the outside shot” instead of working the ball inside more, but admitted his Eagles had a hard time penetrating the inside and called the Hornets “very quick and very experienced.”
He said the Hornets not only hurt the Eagles on the fast breaks, but didn’t miss many shots from the outside as well.
“We had a lot of guys standing, caught flat-footed,” Frerichs said. “We tried to light a fire under them, but Eureka was just bigger and quicker. They got us in transition and when they did that, I knew we were in for a fight.”
Veteran Hornet coach Tim Meiss said his team set the tone early with the fast-breaks, getting in behind the Eagle press.
“This was a good win for us at home,” he said.
Meiss said he respected Rantoul’s quickness, but said his team was able to control the game on the boards.
“We knew they were a good shooting team,” Meiss said. “They’re very athletic. But we were relentless on the boards which was good for us.”
Rantoul, however, only hit 20 of 54 shots while the hosts knocked down 33 of 61 shots, although just hitting 3-13 from three point land. The Eagles hit eight of 24 three-point shots and missed nine of 12 free throws.
Eureka (15-6 overall and 7-4 in the conference) said while his Hornets dominated the boards 43-27, with Kyle Hardy pulling down 10, they also had some nice play from senior guard Jared McCunn, who had nine assists (six in the first quarter) as well as nine rebounds.
While Schmidgall led all scorers with 20 points, the Hornets also had three others in double figures, including Conner Steffen with 12, Hardy with 11 and McCunn with 10.
Rantoul had just one player in double figures as Jones hit 11 on two field goals, a pair of three-pointers and one of two from the line. Talon Hardin scored eight for the Eagles while Devine Thompson and Shane Starkey both had six and Greg Morrow added five. Coleman, Tom Wood and Weylin Williams all had three for Rantoul while
Damontae Space, Cord Church and Tanner McLain each added two points.