BLOOMINGTON — The back of the Fieldcrest boys basketball team’s warmup tops feature a simple phrase:
Find a way.
That’s exactly what the Knights have done over the last nine games, including Saturday’s championship game of the 111th McLean County/Heart of Illinois Conference Tournament at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center.
Fifth-seeded Fieldcrest (16-6) used a solid 32-minute effort on the defensive end and made just enough free throws down the stretch against No. 2 Eureka (16-4) to earn a 48-44 triumph to capture the title for the first time since 2012.
Fieldcrest also walked away with the McLean County Traveling Trophy after its ninth consecutive win of the season.
“I’ll have to go back and watch the film, and I’m a stickler to detail, and I’m sure I’ll find things I want us to fix, but I thought we collectively played a very good game on the defensive end tonight,” Fieldcrest coach Jeremy Hahn said after his squad held the Hornets to 29% shooting.
The Knights — who received a game-high 21 points and six rebounds from senior forward Landon Modro — knocked off fourth-seeded El Paso-Gridley and top seed Lexington to reach the final.
It also marked the lowest seed to win the tournament since Blue Ridge did it as a No. 7 seed in 2014.
“Landon Modro did an outstanding job tonight, and I couldn’t be prouder of his play,” Hahn said with a smile. “I challenged him before the game. I told him he was getting their best kid (junior standout Tyler Heffren, who finished with four points on 2-of-19 shooting). Heffren sets up some physical challenges for our guards, because he is so good in the paint, but he’s also good from 2 feet to 25 feet.
“Landon gave a tremendous effort and led the way ... his play inspired the entire team.”
Fieldcrest held a 9-4 lead after the opening quarter and 19-13 at halftime as Eureka misfired on 16 of its first 17 shots.
Modro netted six points and Connor Reichman five off the bench in the third to push the advantage to 30-20 heading to the fourth.
“This is an absolutely amazing feeling,” Modro said after posing for a dozen or more postgame photos. “I’m happy that I was able to kind of lead the way for a great bunch of teammates. Yep, Coach challenged me in the locker room before the game on the defensive end, and to be honest, I was ready for that challenge.
“As far as the offensive end, my teammates, like they do most of the time, gave me some amazing passes that put me in great position to score.”
Modro’s two free throws and layup off a Jordan Heider assist put the Knights up 40-28 with two minutes remaining.
Eureka was able to slice the margin to 42-38 with 30 seconds remaining after a 3-pointer by Justis Bachman (18 points). But from there, three free tosses by Nathan Cook, two more by Modro and another by Heider offset two more long-range bombs by Bachman.
Brady Ruestman had eight points and six rebounds for Fieldcrest, while Reichman posted seven points, Nathan Cook six and Heider five points and five rebounds.
The Knights finished hitting 42% (16 of 38) of their field-goal tries and held a 33-30 rebound advantage.
“I thought a big key tonight, and really for the last few games, was we just worked together,” said Heider, the Knights’ sophomore guard dishing off for a game-best four assists and swiping two steals. “We have a lot of trust in each other, and we know if we make a mistake there is going to be someone there to pick us up.
“This has been a fantastic week for us, and tonight was a great way to end it.”
Hahn said there was no doubt in his mind regarding the biggest key to the win.
“We hang our hat on defense,” he said. “Defense travels even when shooting doesn’t, and it’s a way to generate offense on nights the shots aren’t falling as well as you’d like.
“The defensive end of the floor is where we truly won this game tonight.”
At Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center, Bloomington
111th McLean County/Heart of Illinois Conference Tournament
Fieldcrest 48, Eureka 44
FIELDCREST (48) — N. Cook 1-4 3-4 6, Lorton 0-3 1-2 1, Heider 1-5 3-5 5, Ruestman 3-5 2-5 8, Modro 8-11 5-6 21, Reichman 3-8 0-0 7, Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, D. Cook 0-1 0-0 0, Kearfott 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-38 14-22 48.
EUREKA (44) — Bachman 6-11 2-2 18, Tate 3-5 5-6 11, Morin 0-3 0-0 0, Heffren 2-19 0-0 4, Wilcox 1-6 1-2 3, Gold 0-0 2-2 2, Lapp 0-1 0-0 0, Hahn 2-4 2-3 6, Schoolcraft 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-49 12-15 44.
Fieldcrest (16-6) 9 10 11 18 — 48
Eureka (16-4) 4 9 7 24 — 44
3-point goals — Fieldcrest 2-9 (N. Cook 1-2, Heider 0-2, Reichman 1-4, Johnson 0-1); Eureka 4-19 (Bachman 4-9, Tate 0-2, Morin 0-1, Heffren 0-5, Hahn 0-2). Rebounds — Fieldcrest 33 (Heider 6, Ruestman 6, Modro 6); Eureka 30 (Wilcox 7, Morin 5). Assists — Fieldcrest 10 (Heider 4, Ruestman 3); Eureka 7 (Tate 2, Morin 2). Steals — Fieldcrest 5 (Heider 2); Eureka 4 (Heffren 2). Blocks — Fieldcrest 2 (Ruestman 2); Eureka 2 (Bachman 1, Hahn 1). Turnovers — Fieldcrest 12, Eureka 8. Total fouls (fouled out) — Fieldcrest 15 (none); Eureka 19 (Heffren).