3A boys basketball: Streator unable to recover from 5-point play in season-ending loss to Pontiac

Pontiac advances to Friday’s regional title game

Streator's Cade Peterson (1) shoots a jumper against Pontiac during the Class 3A regional semifinal game on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Pops Dale Gymnasium.

STREATOR – In a 32-minute game approaching 100 possessions, it’s often difficult to pinpoint one play as turning the tide.

Not in Wednesday’s late semifinal of the Class 3A Streator Regional, however.

With 4.1 seconds remaining in the third quarter and Pontiac trailing, as it had all game, Pontiac’s Kerr Bauman launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key while a foul off the ball was whistled on host Streator. Bauman’s 3 went in, as did teammate Henry Brummel’s two free throws for a five-point play, giving the Indians their first lead, one they would not surrender in a 61-55 victory to eliminate the Bulldogs.

“It’s hard to survive a completely momentum-changing play like that,” Streator coach Beau Doty said. “Then [Pontiac] came out and trapped a few ball screens, causing a few turnovers to us and getting us on our heels a little bit.

“When we lost the lead, it felt like the air in the building, like instead of a one- or three-point lead it was more of a five- or eight-point lead, and we can’t treat it like that.”

Pontiac – led on the night by 17 points from Riley Weber, 16 from Bauman and a dozen with eight rebounds from Brummel – advances to Friday night’s regional title game against subsectional No. 1 seed Kankakee, a 57-31 winner over Morris in Wednesday’s early semifinal.

“For just momentum and mindset, that was big,” Pontiac coach Matt Kelley said of the crucial five-point play. “We’re pretty good playing with a lead, spreading it. That was a huge play, and when you get that momentum, especially going into the fourth quarter, that’s a huge lift.”

Streator sees its season end with a record of 23-9, the 23 wins tying the most for a Bulldogs team going back to the mid-1960s.

Streator's Christian Benning (22) shoots a jumper over Pontiac's Riley Weber (21) on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Pops Dale Gymnasium.

Senior point guard Christian Benning led the Bulldogs with 18 points. Junior guard Isaiah Weibel added 11 with four steals, Nolan Lukach scored six points, while Cade Peterson and Logan Aukland added five points each. Aukland also had a game-high four assists.

The five-point play, however, and an uncharacteristically hurried and inefficient Bulldogs effort in the fourth quarter prevented a hometown comeback.

“That five-point play definitely gave us a boost,” Indians junior Riley Johnson said. “Once we got that lead, we kind of knew we just had to control the tempo.”

Streator got off to a hot start, leading 10-1 in the opening minutes before the Indians found their footing. Pontiac drew as close as two points in the closing minutes of the first half until Landon Muntz connected on a baseline jumper at the buzzer to send the Bulldogs to the locker room with a 27-23 advantage.

The Streator lead again reached nine points on a Weibel 3-pointer 1:12 into the second half and one final time at 43-34 on a Zander McCloskey trey with 1:35 left in the third. With Streator trying to rest a few starters battling foul trouble – including Benning – Pontiac closed the quarter on a 10-0 run, punctuated by the five-point exclamation point.

“It’s just such a gut punch there at the end of the third quarter when you’re trying to hold the ball with a four-point lead and you go in[to the fourth] trailing by a point and they get the ball,” Doty said.

“Hopefully our juniors can learn from this environment, but it’s so disappointing for our guys to end like this, because it was a great season. ... Every single night our guys came prepared and ready to play.”

The fourth quarter saw both teams struggle from the free-throw line, with Pontiac 5 of 10 and Streator 3 of 8, before Weber put it away by draining a pair with 10.2 seconds left.

Friday’s championship game at the Pops is scheduled for a 7 p.m. opening tip.

Streator's Quinn Baker (in white) tries layup over Pontiac's Riley Weber during the Class 3A Streator Regional semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, at Pops Dale Gymnasium