BY AARON PATTERSON
When things don’t go as planned in life, there are generally two options: Roll over and let the struggle get the best of you, or stand back up and fight harder, staying determined to eventually find success.
For many, success is the only option. And despite their recent woes, the Danville Vikings boys basketball team fits into that category.
There is no question that entering Tuesday’s home game against Champaign Central, the Vikings’ nine-game losing streak had them wondering when a break would finally go their way. But rather than play like a team already defeated, first-year head coach Ted Houpt had his squad ready to play, determined to pick up its first win since November 30.
Once again, though, the final buzzer sounded, and the number representing the Vikings on the scoreboard was less than their opponent. This time, however, Houpt had a mixture of emotions rummaging through his head when he faced his team following its 84-78 triple overtime loss to the Maroons.
“I thought we had a fantastic effort,” Houpt said. “In one regard, this is the toughest loss of the year. In another, the proudest moment. You walk off and look them in the eye and say, ‘Great effort.’ You want to be able to say that to your players all the time. I would just like to be able to say it after a win when something goes our way.
“They played hard enough to win, and we didn’t get it. It’s good to be able to walk off the court proud of our effort, and in a strange way enjoy the battle like that. It’s fun to be part of that kind of struggle when people are laying it on the line that much and there’s absolutely no question about anybody’s effort with the 10 guys on the court and they’re cramping up. It was a great battle and I’m really proud of my team.”
The effort was put forth without starters Marcus Marriweather and Daniel Carter in the lineup, but the collective efforts of the eight Vikings that saw game time left no doubts in the mind of the Danville coaching staff the heart its team has.
The loss was the 10th in a row, but the Vikings remained hopeful throughout the contest to pick up their third win of the season.
Leading the way was Denzel Smith, who seemed fearless in spite of the many looks the Maroons defense threw at him. Smith scored a season-high 39 points with 27 coming in regulation. He scored 11 of the team’s 14 points in the fourth quarter and 12 combined in the three overtime periods.
“That No. 14 from Danville, oh my goodness,” Central coach Scott Davis said of Smith. “What a talent. He would just take shots. The ball would go up and I thought, ‘That’s what we want. Take that shot.’ And then it was a swish.
“He’s so fluid and elevates and has such a nice jump shot at 15 feet. What a talent. There were numerous times when we had him guarded pretty well with a hand in his face. But when you’re 6-6, that makes a difference. A 6-4 kid with a hand in the face doesn’t bother a 6-6 kid too much. But he did a heck of a job shooting jump shots and attacking. He’s a great player.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough, and as Smith later expressed, the Vikings began to self-destruct toward the end of the third quarter.
Danville held a 12-point advantage entering the fourth, but a 14-4 run to start the final period of regulation drew Central to within 47-45. From there, the Vikings did all they could to simply keep pace with the surging Maroons.
“It was really exciting,” Smith said. “I really thought we were going to win — until we lost our composure. We just got too carried away and let them back in the game.
“We kept on saying, ‘Keep our composure. Keep our composure. Be strong with the ball. Take care of the ball.’”
Danville had a total of 19 turnovers in the game, and 11 came in the fourth quarter and three overtime periods.
With the score tied 57-57 and only seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Vikings had three opportunities at the rim and failed to convert as the buzzer sounded. In the first overtime, they led 65-62 with 37 seconds to go, but Central’s Sean Suggs hit a three to tie the game and send it to a second overtime. In the final extra period, the Maroons opened the frame with a three by Alec Altmyer, and never again surrendered the lead.
Despite the lengthy losing streak, Houpt is perhaps most proud of the way his team is staying bonded as one unit, rather than unraveling under the unfavorable circumstances.
“It’s wearing,” Houpt said. “The good news is, we’re staying together. We’re not splintering. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to say that you’re satisfied with the effort without — I don’t want to convey that we’re OK with losing, because that can become a problem. You get used to losing. But I think there are different ways. There’s getting used to losing and you coming down and don’t care. All you can do is keep trying. We haven’t been perfect all year. We haven’t done everything right. There’s areas that we can work on. But, when you have an effort like that, you just say let’s come back Friday and put ourselves in a position again.”
Kylen Butler supported Smith — who also had 17 rebounds — with 16 points of his own and five assists. Trent Sherfield scored six and had eight rebounds, and Steven Williams finished with two points, five rebounds, and six assists.
“I can’t really be disappointed with my team because after we lost, I knew we left it all out on the court and played hard as a team,” Smith said. “You can’t be mad at that. You’ve just got to move on.”