DANVILLE — Just one victory can have a huge impact.
That was the case Saturday night for the Danville boys basketball team, who snapped a three-game losing streak with a 50-47 triumph over the Rantoul Eagles.
“It felt a lot better,’’ said Danville senior guard Kemony Lester, while holding a tray of cupcakes. “We have been working hard in practice, and putting it together tonight for a win is a great feeling.
“This was a very important game. Our fans and the people that are committed to our program have been behind us, getting a win for them shows us that our hard work is paying off.’’
It was also the Vikings second home win of the year, but their first since a 59-49 victory over Bartonville Limestone on Dec. 6. In between, Danville had a double-overtime loss to Normal West and the Vikings squandered a double-digit lead on Tuesday at home against Urbana.
“The first thing that I wanted was a comfortable win,’’ Danville coach Ted Houpt said. “But the fact that we had to execute, take care of the ball, exorcise some demons and do some things we haven’t done this year gives this victory a little more meaning.
“You forget how good it feels to win a game when you’ve struggled like we have this year.’’
Rantoul (4-11) almost overcame a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter against Danville (4-12).
The Eagles got as close at 48-44 on a basket by Kevonte Williams with 25.9 seconds left, but Lester calmly sank a pair of free throws with 20.1 seconds left to seal the victory for the Vikings.
“Coach Houpt is always preaching about how the fourth quarter is supposed to be the time where we pull together and win these games,’’ Lester said. “We just had to keep playing as a team. We had a couple of turnovers, but when you are playing as a team, you have to have each other’s back. We stayed together like a fist. We still had support for each other. That’s why we were able to get the job done.’’
Houpt commended his team for staying together through the tough times.
“We’ve had some tough stuff this year, some of it we have brought onto ourselves, but these guys haven’t given up,’’ Houpt said. “They have been practicing hard and their spirits have been up.
“This win validates the togetherness that we want to display though these tough times.’’
In the final four minutes, Danville was 2-for-2 from the field, Lester had both baskets, and the Vikings were 4-of-6 at the free-throw line during that stretch.
“We ran some clock,’’ Houpt said. “We were able to spread the floor, took care of the basketball and we made some free throws.
“Are we progressing? I think that shows we are learning something here. We still need to make a few more free throws and grab a few more rebounds, but I liked that there seemed to be a calmness in our team down the stretch. That’s a good sign.’’
Houpt pointed out that Lester, who scored eight of his team-high 14 points, in the final 3 minutes, 14 seconds has provided the type of senior leadership this team has needed in the fourth quarter of games.
In last Tuesday’s loss to Urbana, Lester had 12 points in the fourth quarter against the Tigers.
“He didn’t have a great game last night against Peoria Central, but against Urbana, he did all the things you want a senior to do,’’ Houpt said. “He is making free throws and making key plays down the stretch. He has given us some veteran leadership, taking some of the pressure off our young guards.’’
One of those guards, sophomore Nico Johnson finished with 11 points, three assists and four steals for the Vikings, while freshman Kendle Moore had eight points, three assists and three steals. Senior forward Aubrey Duncan had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The Vikings return to Big 12 Conference action on Friday with a game at Peoria Manual.
In Saturday’s junior-varsity game, Danville defeated Rantoul 69-45. Daylon Williams had a team-high 13 points for the Vikings while Quentin Smith chipped in with 10.