DANVILLE — The Danville Vikings have dreams of playing for a state championship at Carver Arena in Peoria.
Tuesday’s opponent, the Chicago Orr Academy Spartans, have been there and done that, winning three straight IHSA Class 2A titles.
In a season that has been focused on learning and development, Danville learned a valuable lesson in its home opener — making free throws can be the difference between winning and losing.
The Vikings shot a dismal 13-of-25 at the charity stripe — including just 5-of-14 in the first half — as the Spartans escaped Danville with a 74-64 triumph.
“That’s a huge thing,’’ said Danville first-year coach Durrell Robinson. “Like I just told them, we are a pretty good team, but in order to be a great team, we have to shoot free throws better and finish layups.
“That (Orr Academy) is an elite team and we still had chances. Free throws is something we need to take care of.’’
Tuesday wasn’t the first time this season that Danville has struggled for the foul line.
At the Lincoln Thanksgiving Tournament, the Vikings were just 36-of-61 (59.0 percent) at free-throw line, including just 5-of-12 in the championship game loss to Lincoln.
“We have shot poorly throughout the season, but it really hurt us tonight because it was a close game,’’ said Danville junior guard Nathanael Hoskins. “It took points off the board that we could have easily had and we could have gotten the ‘W.”
And just how close was it?
The Vikings, who trailed by as much 14 points in the second half, closed within 70-64 on a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Tevin Smith with 1 minute and 1 second left in the contest.
Orr Academy, who was making its season debut on Tuesday, sealed the victory with a layup by Demarius Splunge, who had 17 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, followed by two made free throws from Anthony Torres.
“We knew what we were scheduling. We were scheduling Orr, the three-time defending state champions,’’ said Robinson about his difficult home debut. “We knew what they were going to bring. I just appreciate them coming down to Central Illinois — giving us a test that we need early in the season.’’
Free throws were not the only problem on Tuesday night for the Vikings.
Danville also turned the ball over 19 times in the first three quarters and they finished with 20 for the game.
“That is crazy. I didn’t even notice that,’’ said Robinson. “The free throws were more noticeable. We have to get our turnovers down to 10 to 12 to give ourselves a chance.
“Even with that, we competed and had our chances.’’
Hoskins admitted that the Spartans caught the Vikings.
“We fell into their trap,’’ he said. “That is what Chicago teams like to do, they want to make you turn it over and we did.’’
The Danville junior guard also pointed out that Orr Academy enjoyed a 33-25 advantage in rebounding as the Spartans had 11 second-chance points in the first half en route to a 39-27 lead.
“We had to stop giving them second-chance points,’’ he said, noting that Orr had only one offensive rebound basket in the second half.
Hoskins fueled the Danville comeback with 11 points in the third quarter — nine in a row at one point, on a couple of nifty drives to the basket along with a step-back 3-pointer.
“He is one of those guys with expectations and he is emerging as one of our leaders,’’ Robinson said. “That’s what he is capable of and we hope he continues to work and continues to stay at that level.’’
Each time the Vikings would get close, Orr sophomore guard Leontae Lilly seemingly made a big play for his team.
Lilly, who finished with eight points and four assists coming off the bench for the Spartans, either got to the basket for a layup or found Splunge for a easy bucket.
“He is a great ballhandler,’’ Robinson said. “He is wise beyond his years. We were hugging him too much on defense and he was breaking us down. He pretty much controlled the game, especially in the second half.’’
And while it’s a second straight loss for the Vikings, Robinson believes these are the type of games his team needs to get better.
“Hopefully, we are better prepared for the Big 12 with these games against possibly back-to-back state-ranked teams,’’ said Robinson as the state rankings are not released until later this afternoon.
Hoskins admitted it was a fun game.
“This is tough competition,’’ he said. “It let us know what we are going to face in the future.’’
Up next for Danville is the Big 12 opener on Friday, Dec. 13 at Bloomington.
Danville played without senior forward Robert Stroud on Tuesday night, who according to Robinson violated team disciplinary rules.
In the junior-varsity game, Orr Academy defeated Danville 65-35. The Vikings were led by sophomore Camarion Halthon with 15 points.