DANVILLE — Clayton Honn is 15 years old, but the Arthur High School sophomore already knows how it feels to be Sweet 16.
Honn sunk 7 of 7 fourth-quarter free throws Tuesday as the Knights avenged a regular season loss to Arcola and secured a spot among the final 16 Class 1A boys' basketball teams in the state with a 57-46 sectional semifinal triumph at Schlarman High School.
Honn is not an anomaly among the Knights, a youthful team that starts three sophomores and one freshman on varsity. The team's lone senior is out for the season with an injury.
Arthur coach Dale Schuring took the team's youth into account when, in his preseason evaluation, he said, "I thought we'd be .500 this year."
Starting off with a 2-7 record, even that goal seemed like an uphill climb.
The Knights, however, have won 17 of their last 21 games and carry a 19-11 record into Friday's 7:30 p.m. title game.
If folks want to perceive this as a glorified junior varsity squad, Honn said that is just fine.
"People may think that, but we think we can play with anybody," he said.
The outset of the season required a time of transition.
"It was tough. We were so young," Honn said. "We'd never played on that big of a stage. It took a while to get into a rhythm."
In the rematch against Arcola, it also took time before the offense kicked into gear. It wasn't by design, Schuring said.
"It wasn't that we were being patient," he said. "We played scared."
Arcola's Brett Lindenmeyer filled the basket with points early, scoring all of the Purple Riders' baskets as the team (16-12) shot into an 8-4 lead after one quarter. Lindenmeyer had 12 of Arcola's 18 first-half points and extended that to 18 out of 26 after 20 minutes of action.
Lindenmeyer finished with a game-high 23 points. He was the only Arcola player with more than six points.
"We didn't move the ball well from side to side," Arcola coach Chad Graves said. "We were pretty predictable and pretty easy to guard."
Still, his team also got off to a 2-7 start and Graves said "the kids kept battling and we've come a long ways."
Andrew Maxwell, Arthur's only junior starter, made a layup 6.5 seconds before halftime, and the Knights never trailed again. They took a 19-18 lead into intermission.
Maxwell finished with 14 points, one behind team leader Honn. Junior Evan Seegmiller came off the bench to add 11 points and grab a team-high eight rebounds. Freshman Tyler Schuring scored nine points.
Dale Schuring said the matchup against Arcola was a positive for his program, which was making its first sectional appearance in 17 years.
"It's a disadvantage in certain respects because we know each other so well," he said, "but we're comfortable playing with each other and without a doubt that helped with the jitters."
Arthur will play the winner of Wednesday night's semifinal between Fisher and CPCI, schools whose coaches were scouting the Tuesday game. The Friday winner moves on to the Elite Eight.
"This is what we all dream about as kids," Honn said. "We got the jitters out in the second half. The fans helped a lot. They were great."
A team of the future is continuing to demonstrate it's competitive beyond its years right now.