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ST. JOSEPH — Jametriel Hudson knew he had to step up his game on Friday night.
Hudson, the backup point guard on the Rantoul boys’ basketball team, had played sparingly for the Eagles throughout the first half of the season.
But during the last few weeks, the junior has been playing some of his best ball.
That trend continued Friday as Hudson poured in 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting — all in the second half — off the bench to help the Eagles clinch their second consecutive Okaw Valley Conference title with a 64-62 win against St. Joseph-Ogden in front of an electric Spartans crowd.
“It seems like somebody different steps up for us every night, and (Friday) Meech was incredible,” Eagles coach Brett Frerichs said.
“Not only did he shoot the ball well, he (also) played pretty good defense,” Frerichs added.
Hudson did not take any shots in the first half. But when Eagles starting point guard and second-leading scorer Duck Gibson picked up his fourth foul with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Hudson knew he had to make something happen.
“I knew I had to step up,” Hudson said. “Just knowing Duck was in foul trouble, I knew I had to step up as another guard. I just had to step up and be that one guard to help out.
“I’ve put in extra work and talked to Coach (and asked), ‘What do I have to do for me to get on the court more and show what I can do?’ And I’ve been working way harder than I have been.”
“He really picked up Duck,” Frerichs added. “Duck, and he would admit this, had one of his worst games of the season, and for (Hudson) to pick us up like that, that’s what’s making this run so special. We’re just finding different ways to win every game.”
With the Eagles (18-6, 6-0 Okaw Valley) trailing 37-31 with less than 3:30 remaining in the third quarter, Kevin Williams, who totaled 29 points and eight rebounds, finished off a three-point play at the free-throw line before Hudson stepped into a rhythm three in transition to tie it.
Hudson nailed another three on the next possession to cap a 9-0 run and give Rantoul a 40-37 advantage. He then banked in a 45-footer at the third-quarter buzzer for a 45-39 lead.
Jordan Brooks buried a pair of three-pointers in the final period for SJ-O (17-8, 3-4) to help cut its deficit to 57-56.
But with 2:25 left, Hudson drained his biggest shot of the night — a three-pointer from the top of the key — for a 60-56 edge.
The Eagles then held off a hard-charging Spartans squad, which cut the difference to two points with 1.2 seconds left on a Brandon Trimble drive to the hoop.
With 0.3 second left, Hudson missed a pair of free throws — the second intentionally — and the clock ran out as Trimble could not convert a full-court heave.
“We’re feeling awesome. It feels great,” Hudson said of the Eagles winning another conference crown. “It feels good to know we’re undefeated in the conference. That’s what we’ve been going for.”
It looked early on as if the Eagles might get run out of the gym.
A lack of focus and energy in pregame warmups fed into tipoff as SJ-O jumped ahead 18-6 at the 2:55 mark of the first period behind 12 points from Trimble, who finished with a game-high 36.
Frerichs called a timeout and set up a fullcourt zone defense which, though it didn’t lead to many turnovers, forced the Spartans into some tough shots.
The pressure sparked a 16-3 Eagles run, and they took a 22-21 lead — their first advantage of the game — on an Erick Johnson breakaway dunk.
For SJ-O coach Brian Brooks, Friday night’s loss was, in large part, because of a lack of fine-tuning.
But a down-to-the-wire game will also help his squad as it looks to defend its Class 2A state championship from last season.
“We lost that game on details. We messed up a lot of possessions offensively and defensively and certain sets, and in a game like that, you can’t do that,” Brooks said. “(Rantoul) is way too good to do that.
“We’ll be OK. We play in a tough league, and that’s what prepares us for the postseason."
OKAW VALLEY CONFERENCE BOYS’ STANDINGS
TEAM CONF. ALL
Rantoul 6-0 18-6
Monticello 3-3 15-5
St. Joseph-Ogden 3-4 17-8
St. Thomas More 2-4 10-14
Unity 2-5 9-11
Rantoul 64, St. Joseph-Ogden 62
Unity 69, St. Thomas More 66
Monticello at St. Teresa, 6 p.m.
Maroa-Forsyth at SJ-O, 7:30 p.m.
STM at Monticello, 7:30 p.m.
Unity at Rantoul, 7:30 p.m.
NEXT FRIDAY’S GAMES
Rantoul at St. Thomas More, 7:30 p.m.
St. Joseph-Ogden at Monticello, 7:30 p.m.