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PAXTON — Tie loosened and a few buttons undone on his white shirt, Scot Vogel looked like he had just played 36 minutes like his Paxton-Buckley-Loda boys basketball team.
The Panthers head coach probably felt just as drained and disheartened as his squad did after PBL gave nonconference opponent Rantoul everything it had before falling short in a 58-56 overtime loss at home on Saturday night.
“We’ve made strides,” Vogel said. “When the kids play that hard and work that hard, they deserve to win. They really played a full game where you wanted to see them reward themselves. It was just one of those situations where they came up a bit short. They played great. I’m proud of them. I really am. I don’t think you could ask for a better effort. If we play with that effort and intensity the rest of the year, it’s going to be good for us. We’ve just got to make sure we put this one behind us.”
No one could blame the Panthers (7-5) if they had difficulty putting Saturday night’s loss behind them before playing on Tuesday night at St. Thomas More (results unavailable at press time).
Leading Rantoul the entire second half, the Eagles forced overtime and won the game on a buzzer-beating off-balance layup by junior guard Tanner McLain.
With less than 10 seconds left and the game tied at 56, PBL junior guard Drew Schrodt drove towards the basket from the left wing. But Schrodt’s shot attempt never drew rim and the ball bounded out towards the free throw line.
McLain scooped up the loose ball and dribbled frantically towards Rantoul’s basket, arriving in just enough time to put a last-second shot that rolled in as time expired.
“I got the rebound, saw there was five seconds left, and I was pushing the ball as hard as I could,” said McLain, who finished with 11 points. “I could have dished it off, but I felt like I could just get the layup. I was a little nervous. I was hoping it was going to go in, and as it was rolling around, I thought that maybe I should have passed it in mid-air. I fell and didn’t see it go through.”
It was only the second lead for the Eagles after halftime. PBL frustrated the Eagles’ with an aggressive zone press and zone halfcourt offense that Rantoul couldn’t crack.
“We thought we’d see how it went, and if they continued to struggle with it, then we would stay with it,” Vogel said. “We were doing a pretty good job for the most part with it and limiting their ability to penetrate. They hit a few shots at key times. That’s the main difference. We had a couple rotations that were a little slow, but for the most part, we did a good job.”
Rantoul junior guards Talon Hardin and Devine Thompson both hurt the Panthers with their 3-point shooting. Hardin and Thompson each hit four 3-pointers en route to 14 points apiece. Hardin’s trey from the right corner with 2:07 left in overtime gave Rantoul (7-9) a 54-51 lead while Thompson forced overtime when he hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 1:18 left in regulation that tied the game at 48.
“That’s just one of those things where they’re going to hit some shots,” Vogel said. “They hit some at the right times. We had chances there at the end of the game to put them away. We’ve got to do a better job of that next time.”
The score remained that way until overtime after PBL could not get up a shot at the end of regulation.
PBL started off overtime strong. Junior forward Tyler Rubarts (eight points) converted a traditional three-point play only 10 seconds into the extra sessions to give the Panthers a 51-48 lead. Even after Hardin’s 3-pointer, PBL did not go away. Junior guard Weston Weber made two free throws with 1:56 remaining to trim the Eagles’
lead to 54-53. After a turnover by Rantoul, Weber (nine points) drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:10 left to put PBL up 56-54.
“They had a good gameplan, and then they got the game to their tempo and hit some shots,” Rantoul head coach Brett Frerichs said of PBL. “We knew they were an aggressive, physical team. That didn’t take us by surprise. You’ve got to give them credit for their gameplan.”
Rantoul senior forward Greg Morrow scored his only basket of the game with 52 seconds left to tie it at 56 and set up the dramatic final minute. PBL held the ball for an apparent last shot before Schrodt (11 points, seven rebounds) saw an opening and took off for the basket.
“Obviously, yeah, could he have shot it with a few more ticks having gone off the clock?” Vogel asked rhetorically. “Sure, but he made a move and he’s trying to make a drive to the rim where he’s seeking contact. That’s one of those things where if you start second-guessing everything, you can drive yourself crazy.”
The disappointing ending spoiled an otherwise stellar showing by the Panthers, that included a game-high 17 points from junior Jay Eshelman to go along with six points off the bench by sophomore center Jeremy Walder.
“Jay played well,” Vogel said of the guard, who hit three 3-pointers. “All the guys that played, played hard. We just missed a shot here or had one turnover at inopportune times that killed us. That’s the things we’ve got to continue to get better at.”
Each team committed 19 turnovers. PBL finished 19-of-41 (46 percent) from the field, including 5-of-10 (50 percent) from 3-point range and 13-of-18 (72 percent) from the free throw line. The Eagles were 24-of-50 (48 percent) from the field, including 9-of-22 (41 percent) from beyond the arc and only 1-of-3 (33 percent) at the foul line.
“I knew coming in here renewing an old rivalry from way back and having a good crowd, that PBL would play hard and play aggressive,” Frerichs said. “They kind of had us on our heels going to the basket. It was everything we expected coming into the game.”
Everything PBL expected as well, except the win. But PBL, which was playing for the first time since taking fifth place at the Leader Classic on Dec. 21, showed rapid improvement from how it played before Christmas at St. Joseph-Ogden.
“I think we know we can play at a high level and play at a high level for extended periods of time,” Vogel said. “We’ve just got to make sure we continue to build from that and take from that. Sooner or later, it’s got to all come together.”
PBL’s junior varsity team could not pull off a victory Saturday, losing to Rantoul 57-44 to fall to a record of 5-3.
The JV team will host Urbana Uni High at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The PBL freshman team defeated Tolono Unity 32-27 Monday and will play at Clifton Central at 6 p.m. Thursday.