BY CHAD DARE
Bismarck-Henning senior Austin Toler wanted the ball in his hands.
The 5-foot-9 guard drained a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left in regulation to send Tuesday’s game with Hoopeston Area into overtime.
In the extra session, Toler made 8-of-10 free throws to lead the Blue Devils past the Cornjerkers 43-37 in a second-round game at the Cornjerker Classic.
“I’m a three-year starter,’’ said Toler, who is in his fourth season of varsity basketball. “I have to step up in those situations. These kids are looking up to me and it’s my job to be a leader.’’
And while it was a victory for Bismarck-Henning (2-0), it was anything but a celebration after the game.
“We didn’t come to play today,’’ Toler said. “We’re not concentrating enough. We’re not doing a lot of things right — offensively or defensively.
“We have a lot to improve on and we’re going to get it done.’’
Bismarck-Henning coach Deon Mennenga pointed out that his team had plenty of confidence starting the year.
“This group had a little bit of swagger coming off last year’s season, but they have to create their own legacy,’’ Mennenga said. “We are trying to fit the pieces together. We started a freshman (Dylan Allen) and we have some new big guys, so we’re still trying to find the right rotation.
“We don’t feel that we have played to potential yet. But as I told them a win is a win and we’ll take it.’’
Bismarck-Henning trailed 32-29 with 5.8 seconds left. The Blue Devils got the ball to Toler, who dribbled around a Dustyn Ingram screen and drilled his third 3-pointer of the contest.
“Coach drew up a play where Dustyn picked for me,’’ Toler said. “I got open and luckily it went into the basket.’’
Hoopeston Area first-year coach Matt Colston wanted his team to foul Toler before he could get off the game-tying 3-pointer.
“There was some miscommunication,’’ Colston said. “We left the bench knowing what we were supposed to do, but when the screen happened, we got off script.’’
That was one of many situations in the fourth quarter and in overtime, where the Cornjerkers (0-2) had some struggles.
Hoopeston Area committed four turnovers in the final five minutes of regulation and the Cornjerkers started the overtime with three straight offensive miscues.
“Early in the game, we did some good stuff on offense, but in the fourth quarter we got away from it,’’ Colston said. “The kids got off script. That comes from being under pressure and the gravity of the situation. We got tight and we reverted back to the team that has struggled the last few years.
“We were trying to get out of the situation as opposed to making something happen.’’
Toler had a game-high 22 points, while Andy Bott had nine points and a team-high 10 rebounds for Bismarck-Henning.
Daniel Lawson was the leading scorer for Hoopeston Area with 18 points, while Mason Layden and David Cornelius each had seven. Layden also had a game-high 13 rebounds.
Both teams are back in action on Friday at the Cornjerker Classic.
Bismarck-Henning will play Iroquois West in a 2 p.m. contest, while Hoopeston Area takes on LeRoy in the 7:30 game.
Before the 7:30 contest, Hoopeston Area will induct 26 former athletes and coaches, along with six teams into is inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame.
Highlighting the group is Thad Matta, a former two-time IBCA All-Stater for the Cornjerkers who starred for both Butler and Southern Illinois.
Other standouts include Scott Eells, a former all-stater and member of the 1976 undefeated Indiana Hoosiers, Jill (Doty) Misner, a state champion in track and field and an all-state volleyball player, and Mike Hatfield, a former NCAA All-American at Eastern Illinois.
The ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. on Friday before the Hoopeston Area and LeRoy basketball game.