Bulldogs better in big show

MAHOMET  Most teams, in any sport, like to say every game is a big game. That''s the politically correct way to play it. Mahomet-Seymour shunned conventional thinking and knew its Corn Belt Conference clash with undefeated and state-ranked Prairie Central stood out above the rest. The Bulldogs never denied it. "This is a huge game," Mahomet-Seymour senior Andrew Firkins said. "All week we talked about beating Prairie Central. We knew this was huge." The Bulldogs played up to their own hype by taking down the giant of the Corn Belt with a 56-51 victory Friday night. There was never a doubt what the magnitude of the game was, from the packed M-S gym to the "Dog Pound" cheering section in full force. Adding to the emotion was that M-S (6-5) was riding a four-game losing streak and sustained a 16-point loss to the Hawks (8-1) to open the season at Schlarman''s Topper Classic. A victory could mean wonders for the rest of the season. "Maybe this opened some eyes a little, even our own eyes," said M-S guard Nate Halm, who scored 13 of his game-high 18 points in the second half. "We needed to prove we can beat this team." In a sharp contrast from the first meeting, Friday night''s affair was tight throughout. No lead was bigger than six points, and there were 11 ties and 11 lead changes. The Bulldogs also held their own inside against the Hawks and all-stater C.J. Wrede (17 points, 12 rebounds) despite shooting worse than 40 percent from the field. Prairie Central held a two-point lead after three quarters, but Firkins (17 points) hit one of his five three-pointers early in the fourth to give Mahomet a lead it never gave up  and possibly set it on the road to better days. "For the last week, we''ve been progressing behind the scenes," M-S coach Dan Ryan said. "We were excited to show people what we''ve been doing because it hasn''t shown up on game night for the last week or so. "This is the type of game these kids play for. This is more of an accurate reflection of what this team is about." Prairie Central coach Tom Posey knew Friday night''s conference matchup wasn''t going to be as easy as the first meeting. Still without star guard Trevin McCulloh, who broke his foot before the season but is scheduled to return to practice next week, the Hawks were unable to find a rhythm, physically or mentally. "I think we came out flat-footed," said Posey, whose team was 1 of 15 from three-point range. "We had a terrible week of practice. We told the kids before the game if we came out and played the way we practiced we''re in trouble." That was the case, and now the Hawks, who are ranked in the Top 10 in Class A, must answer the call. "Everything is a learning experience," Posey said. "It happens to college teams, it happens to pro teams. (M-S) turned it up a notch. I give them credit. They wanted it more than we did." Ryan admits he''ll let his team''s enjoyment linger, in hopes it will set the tone for the future. So what is the ideal way to celebrate after winning the biggest game of the season? "I think a lot of us are planning on just enjoying the moment," Halm said. "Basically enjoying tonight, then going to sleep; getting up in the morning and getting back to work."

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