RANTOUL — In basketball the outcome to a game can come down to the final minute. Each possession and call the referees make will matter.
In the final minute of Saturday’s game, Rantoul’s high school boys basketball team, which had been trailing Urbana for the whole game, cut into the Tigers lead down to four points when Rantoul forward Latavius Winston made a layup making the score 63-59 with 1:12 left.
Right after that play a referee made a call that was ultimate factor that decided the game — two technical fouls on Rantoul’s Jimmy Nixon for having a back and forth with an Urbana player as well as a technical on Rantoul assistant coach Ryan Parker.
The Tigers were awarded six free throws and maintained possession of the ball, which forced Rantoul to foul, giving the Tigers another free throw.
What was a single-digit lead turned into a double-digit lead for Urbana in a timespan of just 16 seconds, ultimately sealing the deal for the Tigers’ 74-61 win.
"That four-point game turned into probably an 11-point game in one possession, which was a killer," Rantoul coach, Brett Frerichs said. "There just wasn’t enough time at that point."
Since Nixon received two technicals he had to leave the game and will not be able to play for the Eagles in their next game. Frerichs hopes his players will learn from these types of calls that can happen in a game
"I kind of use that as a teaching experience; they have to be able to leave; they have to walk away no matter how bad the call," Frerichs said. "They have to be able to walk away and show a little maturity. There’s nothing we can do about this game, but in the future they have to leave the arguing to the coaches. They can’t get into arguments with the other team. They can’t say anything to the officials."
Urbana coach Verdell Jones said that though the call went in his team’s favor, it was unfortunate that it ultimately was a deciding factor in a close game.
"I can understand the emotions of a game like this. Guys are competing in a hotly contested game," Jones said. "I know the young man; he’s a great kid, so it’s unfortunate that it happened. Of course it worked to our benefit, but it was unfortunate that it kind of marred a very good played and contested game."
The Eagles trailed 34-26 at the half despite shooting better than 50 percent from the field. Urbana went on a 5-2 run starting the third period, extending its lead to 12 points.
Rantoul finally responded when Kam Rome hit a three-pointer to cut Urbana’s lead to nine. Rome then made a driving layup plus a free-throw to cut the deficit to six at the end of the third period.
The Tigers then turned to their strategy to run out the clock. Rantoul then switched to its pressure defense that resulted in Urbana turning the ball over. The Eagles kept coming back, cutting into Urbana’s lead, but weren’t able to overcome the Tigers at the end.
"We were making a strong comeback by trying on defense" Rome said. "Trying to make doubles, trying to make the offense mess up. I feel like it could have ended better than the way it did."
Rome led the Eagles with 22 points. Other scorers for Rantoul were Winston with 18 points, Hayden Cargo with nine points, Keyon Button with seven points and LJ Lewis with four points.
A couple of other factors gave Urbana the edge over Rantoul. Not only did the Eagles lose Nixon from a technical but Cargo also fouled out in the fourth quarter. The Tigers also shot 25 more free throws than the Eagles.
"They shot 32 out of 40 from the free throw line," Frerichs said. "That’s a killer. We shot 6 for 15. They made 26 more free throws. So out of 74 points, they made 26 points, so it’s just unfortunate that the game ended that way."
The Eagles dropped to 11-14, 5-2 in the Illini Prairie Conference. Rantoul has won nine out of its last 13 games.
The Eagles played St. Thomas More Tuesday and then will have a game on Friday night against Pontiac and Saturday against Bradley-Bourbonnais.
"We are still playing our best ball even with our numbers down for various reasons," Frerichs siad. "The goal is always to be playing our best basketball going into regionals and we have an opportunity to do that with these games coming up."
Contact Ben Theobald at email@example.com and on Twitter @theobald_ben.