Rantoul edges Fisher 59-57 behind Johnson and Rowe's late layups

RANTOUL — There wasn’t much that could stop Erick Johnson or Ryan Meents on Monday night.

Johnson, Rantoul’s senior guard expected to be the Eagles’ top leader this season, and Meents, a Fisher senior guard who will need to step up for the Bunnies even more in 2017-18, converted bucket after bucket on drives to the rim during a summer basketball game in Rantoul.

It was Johnson’s final two drives which erased the Eagles’ last-minute deficit. With his team trailing by four with under two minutes left, Johnson converted two layups, one with under 30 seconds remaining, to tie the game. Following a trap by Lataveous Bell and Kameron Rowe that led to a steal, Rowe converted a game-winning layup with 5 seconds left to give Rantoul a 59-57 win.

The Bunnies’ Tyler Martin tossed up a 25-footer as time expired that clanged off the back iron of the rim.

“This season, I’ve got take it up four notches because if I don’t, who will?” Johnson said. “I’m feeling good. I’ve just got to get better at being the leader. I’m the leader now, and I’m not used to being the leader. It’s more pressure on me now because I have to step up and be the leader and bring all the energy. If I’m down, they’re going to be down, so I’ve got to be up at all times.”

The Bunnies led 57-55 with 37.4 seconds left but turned the ball over, allowing for Johnson’s game-tying bucket.

For Johnson, shooting continued to be a bugaboo that he will have to work on before the season tips off in November. Free throws were the only thing that stopped the senior from dominating Monday’s game. He drove to the cup for five and-one baskets, but he only made one of his five free throws.

And Meents seemed to only be stopped by the uncomfortable heat of the gym.

The game featured two 20-minute running halves, and Fisher led 32-31 at the break. The Eagles took a 51-45 lead in the second half before Meents went to work.

During a 12-0 Fisher run, Meents scored 10 of the team’s points with a flury of driving layups and a free throw to give the Bunnies a 57-51 edge. But with 3:05 left, Meents went down with cramps.

After a quick Eagles bucket, Johnson followed it up with a layup at the 1:50 mark to cut the deficit to 57-55 before his final two buckets sealed the deal.

Johnson’s offense was surely a nice sight for Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs, who is hoping his group will come along on that side of the ball.

“We don’t have the scoring we did last year, so we’re really going to have to find where that scoring’s going to come from,” Frerichs said. “I think more than anything, this is the year we are going to have to score off of our defense. We probably didn’t play pressure defense like we wanted to last year just because of all the injuries and everything that we encountered throughout the season. We’ve stressed these last two months, we’re going to get nine or 10 guys that are really going to just go all out with pressure defense.”

Both teams are similar in that they both have lost a lot of size from their 2016-17 teams and will be looking to push the pace much more often this season.

“We’re going to play more run-and-gun this year because we know we’re undersized,” Meents said. “So we’re going to have to battle on the defensive side and get out and run on teams.”

“That’s what guards look for is to get out on the break and see if can get a couple cheap buckets,” Fisher senior guard Kade Thomas said. “We held them to a two-point game, and they’re a really, really good team, so I think that’s going to give us a lot of confidence heading into the season knowing that we can hang with 3A schools.”

The Eagles are also working on building essentially an entirely different team after graduating four starters.

“We’re going to get better. We just have to work on our team chemistry,” Johnson said. “And we’re not as big as last year, so we’ve got to get bigger and stronger and get in the gym every day. ... It’s a team full of point guards.”

“It’s going to be difficult (replacing four starters), but I feel if we stay in the gym and keep working, we’re going to have a good year,” Rantoul senior guard Meech Hudson said. “It’s a little tiring (running an up-tempo offense), but that’s why you have to keep putting in the work — so we can build that stamina. We’re running down the court constantly. Since we have mostly guards, we have to have the speed and stamina for that.”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZCarp11.

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