BRAIDWOOD – The two teams expected to battle it out for first place in the Illinois Central Eight Conference this winter did exactly that in a rare Thursday night nontournament contest and left tied atop the ICE Conference standings.
The host Reed-Custer Comets won a thriller over the visiting Streator Bulldogs, 63-60 in overtime. The teams – scheduled to meet again at Pops Dale Gymnasium on Valentine’s Day to wrap up the conference slate and it seems quite possibly decide the league title – on Thursday were tied at the end of the second, third and fourth quarters before Bulldogs star Christian Benning fouled out on an offensive foul midway through the extra period, and the hosts held on from there.
“I think we’re two really evenly matched teams,” Reed-Custer coach Mark Porter said after seeing his Comets play their second overtime game of the week after a double-overtime loss Monday to Momence. “The old adage of two boxers standing [in the center of the ring] exchanging punches? We took what they had, and they took what we had.
“We were fortunate to come out with a win.”
Jake McPherson scored a team-high 21 points for the Comets (14-3, 6-1 ICE), backed by 14 points from Lucas Foote and an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double from center Wes Shats.
“We knew this was a must-win,” Shats said. “Especially after losing a tough one to Peotone [on Dec. 16]. We knew we had to come out ready to play and especially had to win at home.”
Streator (9-8, 6-1) received eight points and five rebounds from Logan Aukland, seven points, five rebounds and four assists from Matt Williamson and six points and seven rebounds from Nolan Lukach.
Benning muscled his way to a layup with 40 seconds left in regulation to force the extra period, but was called for his fifth foul and sent to the bench on a similar drive with his team down two with 2:02 remaining in overtime. Before that, Benning poured in a game-high 28 points.
Streator survived – and even gained two points – without its leader during a nearly three-minute stretch of game clock in the fourth quarter after Benning committed his fourth foul, but was not able to repeat the feat in overtime.
“One of the things we talked about was, regardless of the standings, there’s a long way to go. We had to come in and be the more desperate team,” Streator coach Beau Doty said. “I thought for a big chunk of the game we did, and it was so equal, tied at half, third quarter, fourth quarter, and it came down to the last possession.
“I told my guys you don’t ever want to get things twisted and think we’re happy and OK with a loss, because we’re not. We came here expecting a win even though Reed-Custer’s a great team … but it was great of us to come out and play well and take a good Reed-Custer team right down to the wire in overtime at their place.”
Streator outshot the Comets 42% (21 of 50) to 39% (23 of 59) and outrebounded them 40-31, but gave those advantages back with 23 giveaways to Reed-Custer’s eight.
The first half ended tied at 28 – the Comets taking an early lead, while Streator stayed in it thanks to its initial eight points all scored by Benning.
The Bulldogs then briefly took control thanks to a 10-0 run powered by back-to-back 3s from Adam Williamson and Benning, a Matt Williamson steal/layup combo and a tough, contested 2 rattled in by big man Quinn Baker. Reed-Custer trailed by as many as seven but tied it 28-28 on a McPherson hanging jumper just ahead of the halftime buzzer.
The next two quarters, too, would end with the ICE’s top teams knotted.
The Comets are off until a Tuesday home date with Herscher, their second consecutive home game after 29 days without one.
Streator will be back in action Saturday at The Pops for a 5:15 p.m. tip versus Morris.