BY CHAD DARE
Steven Williams couldn’t have picked a better time to take his first charge.
The 5-foot-11 senior for Danville High made one his team’s biggest plays in the final minutes of the Vikings 44-41 victory over the Urbana Tigers on Monday night.
“It wasn’t one of our better games, but we finished the best that we’ve done all year,’’ said Williams, as Danville improved to 4-16 overall and 3-9 in the Big 12 Conference.
“We’ve had great games before. Centennial was unbelievable, but a terrible finish (losing 45-43), so it was all forgotten,’’ Danville first-year coach Ted Houpt said. “That was the most poised finish that we’ve had.
“As the year has gone along, you want to see improvements in important areas.’’
Urbana led by as much as five in the final quarter and the Tigers, who fall to 6-13 overall and 3-8 in the Big 12, took a 41-40 lead with 2 minutes, 41 seconds left on a three-point play from Conner Gremer.
But unlike some other games this season, Danville didn’t buckle under the late-game pressure.
Junior Denzel Smith, who missed Friday’s contest with an ankle injury, got a tip-in with 1:54 left giving the Vikings a 42-41 lead.
“It felt much better tonight being wrapped up and I iced it all weekend to get ready for tonight,’’ Smith said. “I knew I would be able to go and I knew my team would need me.’’
Junior Marcus Merriweather hit two free throws with 1:05 left giving Danville a 44-41 lead, setting up Williams for his big defensive play.
Urbana’s Donald McKinley, who scored a game-high 23 points, drove down the right-side of lane and Williams was there.
“I saw him coming to the hole, and we’ve been talking about taking charges all season,’’ Williams said. “I saw an opportunity to take it and I stepped in and took it.
“It’s the first one that I’ve gotten all year, but it’s not the first one that I’ve tried to take.’’
Houpt said it was first charge Danville has taken as a team in that kind of situation.
“It was a great play, a winning play,’’ Houpt said. “It was the difference in the game.’’
After the offensive foul, Urbana still had another shot to tie the game as Danville’s Smith got called for a lane violation as he made the front end of the 1-and-1.
Still clinging to the three-point lead, Gremer launched a 3-pointer in the final seconds that went long.
“I think most people in the gym thought it was going in, I know I did,’’ Houpt said. “I know that kid hadn’t hit a lot. Our guys went flying and he had a wide-open look. I’m thinking, I’ve seen this one before, this is going down. I was very surprised it didn’t.
“That young man hit some good shots in the first game (Gremer had nine points and a 3-pointer in Urbana’s 59-49 win over Danville on Dec. 4) and I knew he was capable of hitting that shot.’’
The winning plays that the Vikings made in the fourth quarter overcame a few poor decisions in the first three — including Smith’s foul on McKinley half-court shot attempt at the end of the third quarter.
McKinley sank all three free throws with no time on the clock, giving the Tigers a 34-32 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
But during that final quarter, Danville’s defense forced Urbana into seven turnovers with junior Trent Sherfield getting a pair of steals during that stretch.
“We needed winning plays and I think people see Trent as a winner because of his success and leadership on the football field,’’ Houpt said. “ I was just thinking let’s see if he can make a few plays and he did. He made a couple of big hustle plays.’’
After winning just two of their first 14 games, Danville has now won two of its last four.
“Hopefully, this tells everyone that we’re not done this year,’’ said Smith, who had a team-high 14 points and six rebounds.
And that’s something Houpt says has been a positive this year.
“You keep looking at the next game,’’ said Houpt about how this team has handled this season. “They keep coming to practice, and working hard.’’
So what can a big win over a rival like Urbana do for Danville?
“Hopefully this win will give us some energy for the rest of the season, so that we can get a few more wins,’’ Williams said.
Next up for Danville will be the Normal West Wildcats at home on Friday night. The sophomore game starts at 6 p.m. with the varsity contest tentatively set for 7:30 p.m.
In the sophomore contest on Monday night, Urbana defeated Danville 52-26. Aubrey Duncan led the Vikings with six points.