BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — Putting all the pieces together in the right places is the challenge for Danville second-year boys basketball coach Ted Houpt.
His Vikings are continuing to make progress, but the final results are still not there to the liking of Houpt or his team.
On Friday night, Danville played outstanding defense in the first quarter and the Vikings exploded for 23 fourth-quarter points, but everything that happened in between belonged to the Bloomington Purple Raiders.
Bloomington improved to 5-0 in the Big 12 Conference and 6-3 overall with a 64-56 victory over Danville.
“We’re there against the top teams in the conference,’’ said Houpt, whose team suffered a 20 and 12-point loss a year ago against Bloomington. “We can get it done. We just need everyone clicking at the same time to beat these really good teams.
“A year ago, we had some really dark games, but it doesn’t feel like that this season. We are trending in the right direction, but we want to get things turned around so that we’re talking about victories.’’
The Vikings, who fall to 3-6 overall and 2-3 in the Big 12, successfully put the clamps on a very explosive Purple Raider offense in the first six minutes.
Danville built a 9-1 lead thanks in part to its 2-3 zone and defensive rebounding by Denzel Smith, who finished with a game-high 11 boards, and Aubrey Duncan, who wound up with 10 rebounds.
“We played that zone fairly effectively and we rebounded it well,’’ Houpt said. “We knew that Bloomington was a team that wanted to get up and down the court quickly. We wanted to slow them down, but we also slowed ourselves down. We’re just not very good with our half-court offense, especially against pressure defense.’’
And those offensive struggles came to light in the next 6 minutes, 38 seconds. The Purple Raiders, using a spark from Jake Romani off the bench, went on a 21-3 run as the Vikings missed 10 straight shots and they committed four turnovers during that stretch. Romani scored 11 of his 15 points during that run.
“We had worked so hard on defense, that you just figure that our offense was going to come,’’ said Smith, who finished with a game-high 19 points — nine of those coming in the fourth quarter. “And when that offense doesn’t click, it gets frustrating.’’
But unlike games from a year ago, Danville didn’t let a double-digit deficit to affect its effort.
The Vikings closed within four points (22-18) in the second quarter and they got within two (33-31) on a four-point play by senior guard Kylen Butler with 4:26 left in the third quarter.
“When we get up and down the court, like we did in the second half, we score the ball better, but we don’t defend as well as we did in the first quarter,’’ said Houpt, whose team gave up 37 second-half points. “If we could just find a way to play the defense we did in the first quarter and the offense we had in the second half, we would be a very dangerous team.’’
Bloomington had a 13-point lead (48-35) entering the fourth quarter, but that’s when Smith turned up his offense. The 6-foot-7 senior forward scored seven straight points pulling the Vikings within 60-56 with a minute to go, but Danville could have gotten closer as Smith missed a long 3-pointer during that stretch.
“I messed up with that 3-point attempt. I should have driven it to the basket,’’ Smith said. “Next time, I will go to the bucket instead of pulling up for a 3-pointer.’’
And while Houpt would prefer Smith to drive the ball to the basket, he didn’t have a big problem with the shot.
“I think he thought it was a little more of a panic situation,’’ Houpt said. “He also took another shot that I thought he should have driven to the basket and it went in. Denzel is at the point where you live with that stuff from time to time. He is a great scorer and a willing passer, but sometimes he is going to take a questionable shot.
“He also took that 3-pointer against Cahokia. It went in and we came back to win.’’
Bloomington sealed the victory with four straight free throws — two from T.J. Sims (18 points) and two from Willie Grayson Jr.
The Vikings, who had a 10-day layoff coming into Friday’s game, will turn around and play Peoria Manual tonight at Danville High. The junior varsity contest will start at 4:30 p.m. with the varsity game set to tip off at 6 p.m. The start times have been moved up because of the possible winter storm forecasted for central Illinois later tonight.
In the junior varsity contest, Bloomington rolled past Danville 69-45. T.J. Henderson was the leading scorer for the Vikings with 13, while Jordan Cunningham had nine.