BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — PONTIAC — Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades is a phrase that probably everyone has heard at some point.
For the Danville Vikings boys basketball team and head coach Ted Houpt, it’s something they are living during the first part of the season.
Danville fell to 3-7 on the season with a 69-61 loss to Peoria Manual in an opening-round contest of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament on Thursday.
“It was another winable game,’’ Danville coach Ted Houpt said. “We’re playing against good teams every time we step onto the floor, but at the same time, these are games that we can be winning.’’
Six of Danville’s seven losses have come against teams with winning records and the Vikings average margin of defeat is 9.3 points. In the last two losses, a 64-56 setback against Bloomington, and Thursday’s loss to Manual, Danville has had opportunities in the fourth quarter to pull out a victory.
“We have to find a way to win one of these games or we are going to keep saying the same things over and over,’’ Houpt said. “We couldn’t get that big stop in the second half. We were right there, but we just need to make a run and we don’t do it.’’
Instead, the Vikings would pull within one basket of tying the game or taking the lead and the Rams (6-1) would score on back-to-back possessions to extend their lead. Manual’s best offense against Danville was its pressure defense.
The Rams turned 21 turnovers by the Vikings into 21 points, the majority of them were uncontested layups.
“Defensively, it wasn’t bad,’’ Houpt said. “But, you can’t guard turnovers. We do a good job in the half-court defense, but when we start turning the ball over, it creates easy shots.
“If we could just stop turning the ball over, we would get more shots on our offensive end and our opponents would get a lot less layups. If we did that, we can start winning these games.’’
Not only did Manual’s pressure create turnovers, but the Rams also forced the Vikings into very quick shots on the offensive end when they did break the pressure.
Danville didn’t have a single possession in the first half with four or more passes. Most of the time, it was break the pressure and shoot or break the pressure, pass and shoot.
“I don’t think we ever got into our offense,’’ Houpt said. “We’ve had games like this before, but this is probably the worst. Right now, if the other team is pressuring the ball, we can’t get into our offense and everyone kind of panics.
“Even when we do score, it’s not from the offense, it’s from beating the pressure. Obviously, that is something we are going to have to address.’’
Houpt admits the biggest problem in that area is the lack of true point guard. The two best ballhandlers for Danville are senior Kylen Butler, who had a team-high 17 points, but he is a more natural off-guard and senior forward Denzel Smith, who had 14 points, six assists and seven turnovers.
“We just don’t have anyone that can create shots for other people,’’ Houpt said. “It’s not a lack of willingness by this team, it’s a lack of skill set. We don’t have that type of guy on this team.
“If we could just get the ball into our offense on a consistent basis, Denzel is good enough to create shots on his own.’’
Smith actually scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half as he was saddled with foul troubles in the first two quarters, but the Vikings were able to keep it close, trailing 19-17 at halftime as Butler had seven points in the first half.
In addition to Smith finding his scoring touch in the second half, Danville’s Kemony Lester came off the bench to drain three second-half 3-pointers, the last pulled the Vikings within 57-54 with 1 minute, 49 seconds left. Lester finished with 12 points.
“His energy was great and we know that he hit those big shots when he get the opportunity,’’ Houpt said. “He gave us a great scoring boost, and that’s the type of things we are going to need to win games this season.’’
And while Lester’s contribution was important, Manual got an even bigger spark off its bench.
Delano Jones scored a game-high 21 points, including three 3-pointers, as the Rams outscored the Vikings 32-12 in bench points.
Manual shot a remarkable 58 percent in the second half as the Rams outscored the Vikings 50-44 in the final two quarters.
Danville will play Joliet West, a 63-40 loser to Aurora West, at 2:30 p.m. today in the consolation bracket. The winner will advance to Saturday’s play while the loser will be finished in the tournament. Today’s game can be heard locally on WDAN-AM 1490.