Eagles, Williams adjust on the fly
RANTOUL — After watching Paxton-Buckley-Loda forward Andrew Zenner torch his team for 14 first-half points behind four three-pointers, Brett Frerichs made the game’s biggest halftime adjustment.
The Rantoul boys’ basketball coach put Kevin Williams on the Panthers’ big man, giving Williams the simple instructions to stick with him the entire second half.
“Kevin wasn’t going to switch off of (Zenner),” Frerichs said. “That was the difference (defensively). Kevin, with his length, is going to give a lot of guys trouble. That was all Kevin — making sure he didn’t switch off of him.”
The defensive switch, which led to Zenner netting only two points in the second half, proved to be a critical factor in the Eagles’ 66-53 win in a nonconference matchup on Tuesday night.
“I already knew Zenner was a good player. I’ve played against him since middle school, so I know he’s a good player,” Williams said.
Williams’ strong performance wasn’t limited exclusively to defense — the senior also dominated with the ball in his hands. The Eagles made Williams the focal point of the offense, spreading the floor and feeding their 6-foot-6 forward in the lane — letting him slice and dice his way to a game-high 21 points.
“Kevin is tough to guard when he gets the ball in the middle and squares his shoulders,” Frerichs said.
“That was the difference in the game. I know (Erick Johnson) had 20 points, but Kevin just gave them fits on the inside. They couldn’t contain him. He’s capable of doing that for us,” Frerichs added.
Trailing 20-19 after the first quarter, the Eagles (11-5) extended their defense a bit more in the second, double-teaming the PBL guards and jumping the passing lanes.
The extra pressure forced seven second-quarter turnovers, but the Panthers (8-3) kept the game tight before taking a 32-31 lead on a Colton Kleinert three-pointer from the right corner.
After Kleinert’s triple, the Eagles closed the half with a 6-0 run capped by a Johnson putback layup at the buzzer.
Rantoul outscored the Panthers 15-6 in the third quarter, punctuated by a Duck Gibson three-pointer at the 1:15 mark and a Joe Schluter corner triple at the buzzer.
Rantoul now has rattled off four consecutive wins after a disappointing run in the Taylorville Holiday Tournament in late December.
“It feels pretty good,” Williams said of rebounding with the four victories. “We could’ve just laid down and (gave up), but we picked it up.”
“That was a big boost for us,” Eagles forward Onycai Lawson said of the four wins. “Going into Taylorville we were shooting for a championship, but we got knocked in the face the first three games. But we came back and responded the next two games, and now we’re feeding off these last four.”
On the flip side, the loss to an area rival could provide some extra motivation for the Panthers moving forward.
“We’ve got to move on. (Rantoul) played really well,” PBL coach Adam Schonauer said. “I’m a little disappointed in some of the guys’ mindsets. They didn’t really embrace the moment as we would like them to have done. But we learn from it and get better, and we move on and get ready for next week.”