Rantoul gets clutch free throws from Rome, Hudson to earn regional victory
MAHOMET — As time ticked away to less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter Monday night, Brett Frerichs looked at his assistant coaches and asked, "Who are our five best free throw shooters?"
The Rantoul boys' basketball coach was starting to get a little on edge. The Eagles were nursing a slim lead, but he had to agonize as his leading scorer, Meech Hudson, missed four consecutive free throws in crunch time while battling Mattoon in a Class 3A Mahomet-Seymour Regional first-round game.
With many of the Eagles noticeably tired and out of rhythm offensively, Frerichs didn't get much of an answer from the bench when he posed the question. But, finally, sophomore Kamrynn Rome strolled to the line and converted a pair. Hudson then came up with a big steal and made back-to-back free throws for a six-point lead with 30 seconds remaining.
The seventh-seeded Green Wave closed the gap to 56-54 with 7.7 seconds left, and after a missed free throw, Rome corralled the defensive rebound, made one of two free throws, and the Eagles survived a desperation half-court shot to pull out a 57-54 win.
"They're a really good shooting team, and we tried doing everything we could to close out with two hands up," said Frerichs, whose Eagles (8-21) had lost 12 straight, with the last victory coming Jan. 12 over Mattoon. "Watching film from the first game, our goal was to full-court press as much of the game as possible. It looked like we wore them down throughout the game (on Jan. 12), and I felt their guards really felt that pressure.
"Coming into the game, it gave us a lot of confidence knowing we had beat them. We beat them, and they had made 14 out of 21 threes. And having Latavius (Winston) come back was big time."
Winston, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, is Rantoul's only true post presence but had been sidelined for several weeks with a broken finger. Monday night was just his third game since returning, and his absence on defense and on the glass was felt throughout each of the Eagles' 12 losses.
"His finger's 100 percent, but the cardio he's still a long ways away," Frerichs said. "He just gives us so much inside. Without Latvius, we can't make any mistakes on the defensive end because we don't have anything back there without him. With him, we can make a few mistakes, and he's there to clean it up for us."
Rantoul jumped out to a 15-10 lead after the first quarter, but Mattoon tied it at 29 at halftime despite seven three-pointers by the Eagles.
In the third period, Hudson (who finished with a game-high 23 points) converted a one-handed tip-in, LJ Lewis scored on a putback a minute later, and Lewis buried a corner three at the buzzer for a 45-40 edge going into the final frame.
The 10th-seeded Eagles' victory sets up what should be an electric atmosphere at 7 tonight when they match up with second-seeded Mahomet-Seymour (19-10) in the semifinals.
"It sets up a game with one of our biggest rivals," Frerichs said. "They've had a great season, so it should be a great atmosphere. ... It's the same Mahomet team that's knocked us out the last two years. It's always a pretty good game when the two teams get together. They've gotten us the last two years, but you're talking about a possession in each one of those games. I can't wait for (tonight)."
In other Class 3A action
At Decatur. Seth Westfall had 17 points, but Clinton fell 69-56 to Eisenhower. The Maroons end the season 14-12.
At Herscher. Noah Lewallen had 23 points and Jake Bachtold 14 but Prairie Central lost 96-79 to Pontiac.