TAYLORVILLE — The Rantoul Eagles boys basketball team has gotten off to a slow start to the 2019-2020 campaign.
The Eagles’ closest game prior to the Taylorville Holiday Tournament was 23 points on the road against St. Joseph-Ogden.
Combine the slow start with the fact leading scorer Jaxson Freeman had season-ending hip surgery and the Eagles were sure to be in for a tough opening game in Taylorville.
The Eagles on Thursday took on the Sterling Golden Warriors, who came in 5-3 with an impressive resume.
The Eagles evidently didn’t get the message that they were overmatched.
They fell behind early due to the Golden Warriors hitting six threes in the first quarter. Rantoul trailed 25-14 after the first eight minutes.
Rantoul would battle in the second quarter outscoring Sterling 18-16 despite the Golden Warriors hitting four more threes. The Eagles trailed 41-32 at the half.
Adjustments were made for both teams coming out of the break, especially on defense. The Eagles cracked down, allowing just three treys the rest of the game.
Sterling came out and pushed the lead to 13 early in the third quarter before Rantoul made its run. Deontae Space scored six of his 11 points in the third quarter, which sparked the Eagles to cut the lead to just six points. Sterling would get a late lay up to expand the lead to eight points going into the final eight minutes.
Rantoul continued to fight to the final buzzer but could not quite pull off the upset falling 65-53.
Rantoul Head Coach Ryan Parker said the Eagles knew they had a lot to work on going into the tournament.
“We worked on everything. Rebounding and taking care of the ball was huge, but the thing I really like tonight was we were more of a team,” Parker said. “We moved the ball more on offense, attacking the rim and making the extra pass. Sterling was able to knock down shots, but we put the work in in practice and hopefully for the players it showed.”
The Eagles’ struggles have partially had to do with the tough schedule. Parker said he can be proud of his team’s effort.
“We have played seven good teams now. I told the team I can live with that effort as a coach,” Parker said. “I told the team they have been working hard and getting after it and we are making massive strides.”
The Eagles now want to take more steps following their best effort of the season.
“We just need to do what we did tonight game by game and even improve on some things,” Paker said. “We had a couple poor shots and what not when the game was close. We have to keep working everyday and be consistent.”
With Freeman out for the season and the JV team playing in a tournament of their own the Eagles only had 10 varsity players making the trip. Parker said that just means each player has to do his job.
“Next man up. We had some JV guys play well at Centennial, but we don’t have them this week,” Parker said. “These guys, whether or not they were on the bench or got less minutes in the past, they really stepped up tonight.”
Following the Taylorville Holiday Tournament, which finished after press deadline, the Eagles take on PBL on Friday night in Paxton.
You can contact Ryan Birch at Rbirch@RantoulPress.com or on twitter @RyanBirchRP.