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MONTICELLO — Kevin Roy's boys were slated to visit Meridian on Saturday night for a nonconference game. A threatening weather forecast shot down that event.

Expected wintry conditions also will prevent Monticello boys' basketball from practicing inside Robert and Dorothy Miller Gymnasium on Saturday.

So is Roy going to find a different location for the Sages to put up some free throws after they only made 20 of 37 attempts on Friday night versus Prairie Central?

"I promise, we practice them," Roy said with a laugh. "It's more mental than physical. We've got to step up to the line with confidence."

Monticello unearthed just enough of that to start its Illini Prairie Conference slate on a positive note.

Senior Devin Graham and junior Ryan Reeder sank four consecutive free throws in the final 30 seconds, allowing the host Sages to stave off the Hawks 61-55.

"We just take a lot of pride in practice, practicing our free throws," said Graham, who finished with a game-high 14 points and went 6 of 9 at the foul line. "I just tried to step up and make the final two to ice the game."

Seven of eight athletes who saw minutes for Monticello (15-3, 1-0 Illini Prairie) shot at least two free throws. None finished with a perfect mark.

But drawing as many fouls as the Sages did had its benefits, with Prairie Central (9-10, 1-1) getting to the line just 17 times total.

All of these single-point efforts were the result of physical play.

The sides combined to commit 41 fouls. Hawks senior Jake Crane slammed to the hardwood in the third quarter after trying to drive to the rim, walking off with a bum arm before later returning. And Graham was bodied into the base of the stands below one basket while vying for his own layup.

"All conference games are played hard and physical," said Graham, a key contributor on Monticello's recent state-championship football team. "We just had to keep our composure."

Joining Graham in double figures scoring were senior Benton Singleton — who finished with a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double — as well as senior Ethan Johns, who fouled out with 12 points.

As with the free throws, all but one Sage who scampered across the floor banked at least three points. It provided much-needed balance, as Prairie Central limited Monticello's leading producer, Singleton, to one second-half basket.

"Ethan Johns had a big game for us. Devin, he's been consistent for us," Roy said. "We had guys getting baskets for us at various times when we need them."

The Hawks also shared their scoring load. Sophomore Kaden King potted 13 points, Crane and junior Jake Bachtold each dumped in 11 points and sophomore Trey Bazzell accounted for 10 points.

Prairie Central's last gasp at a noteworthy early league victory transpired because of its signature pressure. Crane hauled in as steal with 37 seconds on the clock, shortly after the Sages inbounded the ball. King quickly turned that into a layup, cutting the Hawks' deficit to 57-55.

But Monticello was able to string together its free throws at a time when a miss could have proved devastating.

"They're a good team. We got wore down a little bit," Roy said. "We're getting better, but I think that Prairie Central team's a little bit better than people might give them credit for."

Even so, the Sages came out ahead on their large, purple scoreboard Friday.

"Really big to get the first conference win under our belts," Graham said, "and just focus more on one game at a time."

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).