Eagles plant postseason seed
DANVILLE — The big one looms Friday for Rantoul.
That's when the Eagles play at Normal U-High in a game that has first-place implications in the Corn Belt Conference.
But Tuesday's 82-81 overtime win against Danville loomed big for another reason: postseason seeding.
With three Big 12 Conference schools — Centennial, Champaign Central and Urbana — descending upon the Class 3A Rantoul Regional in late February and early March, Eagles coach Brett Frerichs knew the importance of Tuesday's nonconference game.
"If we go over and get beat by Danville — and they're struggling right now — those three other Big 12 schools could look at that loss and (think), 'Is Rantoul that good?' " Frerichs said last week. "I think the next two weeks are going to tell us where we're seeded."
Frerichs and the Eagles (14-3) left Vermilion County with the win despite a highlight-worthy performance by Danville's Dennis Hightower, who led all scorers with 37 points on a dazzling array of drives and four three-pointers.
"Hightower was killing us," Frerichs said. "He's a great player."
Yet it was the play of Rantoul's Johnny Jones that sealed the deal. Jones poured in a team-high 23 points and scored the Eagles' final six points, including four free throws.
"I was nervous," Jones said. "I had the fans talking to me, and my free throws were kind of off in the first half. I was thinking about that. We were up by two, and I had to finish the game out."
Jones made two free throws with 6.5 seconds left to put Rantoul up 82-78 and make Hightower's final three-pointer with two seconds left moot.
Rantoul led 46-33 early in the third quarter after L.C. Franklin (14 points) made his fourth three-pointer, but the Vikings used a 10-0 run to cut their deficit to three and trailed 57-54 to start the fourth quarter.
Rantoul's Travis Britt opened overtime with a three-pointer and finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists with assistant coaches from Indiana State, Tennessee State and Southern Indiana in attendance.
"We've been playing Danville since middle school, and it's always a pride thing to come over here and beat them," Britt said. "For us to come over here to their place and beat them on their own floor, that's actually a big deal."
Darian Dorsey had a solid game off the bench for the Eagles with 11 points and four rebounds, and Danville's Trent Sherfield hit three clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter and regulation that either tied the game or put Danville ahead. Sherfield finished with nine points.
In an up-tempo game throughout, however, the Eagles made their free throws when they needed to and emerged with their fourth straight win, including their second straight in overtime.
"In terms of seeding, again, there's a lot of basketball to play," Frerichs said, "but this (win) gives us a case for a good seed."