BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — It would have been easy for the Danville Viking seniors to give up this season.
Through each heartbreaking loss this season, the opportunity was there for them to throw in the towel.
But, that didn’t happen, and on Tuesday night in the regular-season home finale, senior Denzel Smith and the rest of the Vikings put on a very impressive display for a large crowd at Danville High, beating the Rantoul Eagles 85-62 in a non-conference contest.
“It feels really good to play this well in front of the home fans,’’ said Smith, who had a game-high 39 points. “We wanted to put on a good show in our final game and our fans, that have supported us this whole year, deserved it.’’
And, the Vikings, who have regardless of their record put up some great efforts in most of their games this season, didn’t disappoint on Tuesday night.
Danville’s seven seniors combined for 79 points, 20 of the team’s 28 rebounds and they had all 19 of the team’s assists in the contest.
“That looked really good,’’ said a very pleased Danville coach Ted Houpt. “I guess every team looks good when they are passing the ball and making shots like we did tonight.
“That was just really good unselfish basketball.’’
The Vikings shot a remarkable 60.3 percent (35-of-58) from the field and they were 10-of-24 from 3-point range. And the biggest reason for their impressive shooting can be directly attributed to the ball movement.
That unselfish play is pretty rare for a team that entered Tuesday’s contest with just seven wins in 23 games.
“But, that’s one thing about this team that I’ve enjoyed,’’ Houpt said. “No matter what has happened this season, this group of guys have remained close and we have enjoyed being around each other.
“We’ve had some really tough losses, but each time, this group has come back and practiced just as hard for the next game. You kind of wished that they weren’t so nice at times, but this is a nice quality to have in a good group of guys. It shows a lot of character to be able to take some of the hits that we have this season, and then to keep getting up.’’
And Smith typifies the unselfish play on the Vikings.
Not only did he have a game-high 39 points, but he also dished out a game-high six assists to go along with nine rebounds — just missing the team’s first triple-double of the season.
“It would have been easy for us to give up on this season,’’ Smith said.
“But, we kept pulling together because coach told us that we are at our best when we are playing as one. We believed in him, and we have continued to keep trying to get closer as a team.
“It’s an incredible feeling when we are all playing together as one unit.’’
Smith wasn’t the only senior to celebrate his final game at Danville High.
Kemony Lester came off the bench to score 16 points, including making four 3-pointers, while Kylen Butler had 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the victory, but it was Smith 16 first-quarter points that set the tone for the Vikings (8-16).
“Denzel made it look pretty easy,’’ said Houpt, noting that the 6-foot-7 forward was 17-of-24 from the field. “That’s not a lot of shots.
“And, we really didn’t get a lot of offense with our press.’’
Actually, Danville forced Rantoul into just 12 turnovers in the contest, so the Vikings had to rely on its offense to produce.
“That shows just how good of a job the guys did with ball movement,’’ said Houpt, who did have one concern.
“The rebounding was something that we need to work on.’’
Rantoul outrebounded Danville, and the Eagles had 15 offensive rebounds that led directly to 17 second-chance points.
Talon Hardin led the Eagles (12-16) with 14 points, while Johnny Jones and Kevonte Williams each finished with 13 for Rantoul.
The Vikings will get a preview of their Class 4A regional opener this Friday night as Danville plays at Normal West in its regular-season finale. The JV contest begins at 6 p.m. with the varsity game tentatively set for 7:30. These two teams will turn around and play each other in the quarterfinals of the Normal Community regional tournament on Monday.
In the junior varsity contest, Danville rolled to a 52-35 victory over Rantoul.
Antaius Collier led the Vikings with 15 points, while Allen Davidson had 12 and Jordan Cunningham chipped in with eight.