RANTOUL- The Rantoul Township High School boys basketball team bounced back in a big way on Saturday against Bradley-Bourbonnais for its final home game after losing a tough game the night before.
The Eagles started slowly at first, repeating the same things from their previous performance, missing shots, turning the ball over, and ended up trailing by the end of the first quarter, 19-17.
Once the second quarter started, it was a different story with a different ending. The Eagles started hitting three-point shots in overwhelming numbers, using their fast break offense to make easy baskets and lastly their defense putting stops to the Boilermakers’ offense. The Eagles went on a 20-9 run and never lost the lead after that. The Eagles (13-15, 6-3) defeated the Bradley-Bourbonnais Boilermakers (13-14, 5-5) by a final score of 76-47.
Rantoul’s defense played a major role in the second quarter, giving fits to the Boilermakers’ offense and limiting them just seven points. Rantoul led Bradley-Bourbonnais at halftime 39-26.
"I think we brought a little more intensity after the first five minutes of the game," Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs said. "We started to hit some three-pointers, opening up a little bit for Latavius Winston on the inside. I think we held them to seven points in the second quarter and just really proud of the guys for bouncing back."
Rantoul point guard Jimmy Nixon finished with a game-high 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting which included five three-pointers. The Eagles made 13 three-point shots, shooting 13-24 from the three point-line.
"We just had confidence in our shots, and we just kept shooting them," Nixon said. "I feel like our team did good on the defensive and offensive end. It was a good team win."
Despite only being a freshman, Nixon has played an important leadership role for the Eagles. It’s a big jump from playing against junior high teams to going against high schoolers the next. "He’s really matured for only being a freshman," Frerichs said. "He’s just gotten better at every game. He did a really good job against their three-quarter-zone press, getting the ball in the right hands of his teammates. I thought he was very instrumental in leading the charge."
Another key Rantoul player, especially in the second-half, was LJ Lewis (17 points). Lewis made a three-pointer at the less than five-minute mark, which gave Rantoul a 48-32 lead. Lewis then scored another five straight points for Rantoul, including another three-pointer at the four-minute mark in the third quarter to extend the lead, 55-34.
Both Lewis and Latavius Winston (8 points) had combined for 14 rebounds, each with seven. Rantoul had 30 rebounds as a team.
"He [Lewis] had all 7 rebounds in the second half and followed that up with 17 points," Frerichs said. "He shot the ball really well the last couple of games. He’s hit six threes over the weekend, that’s just an unexpected bonus. LJ is not looked at for this three-point shooting."
The Eagles received nine points from Kam Rome, three points by Hayden Cargo, six points by Keyon Button, two points by Angelo Brown and six points by Eli Remington. The Rantoul team finished 33-for-50 from the field (3-3 on free-throws). Remington’s six points were made by back-to-back possessions in the fourth period in which the junior forward made two straight "and-one" buckets.
"Sometimes I don’t get the ball very much," Remington said. "So whenever I do I get the ball, I just try to put it up and get some points. We played great, a lot better than we did last night."
Saturday’s win for Rantoul comes following a disappointing loss on senior night against the Pontiac Indians, who knocked off the Eagles 70-67. Winston had a double-double and ended up with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Tough senior night defeat
"It’s not easy to lose on senior night," Frerichs said. "We could have came here with our heads down and just went through the motions, but I thought we played one of our better games of the season tonight."
Play in regional next
The Eagle’s next game will be against Mahomet-Seymour on Monday, Feb. 25, in the regional quarterfinals of the Springfield Southeast Sectional. The game will be played in Rantoul and tipoff will be at 6 p.m.
Contact Ben Theobald at email@example.com and on Twitter @theobald_ben.