The Morton boys basketball team continues to make progress — it just has not translated to wins yet in a ferocious part of the 2012-13 schedule.
The Potters lost their final pre-Christmas game Dec. 21 to visiting Metamora, 58-47, in a Mid-Illini Conference contest.
The Redbirds won for the ninth time in their first 10 games after receiving a game-high 20 points and eight rebounds from Tianen Chen.
Corey Dullard and Nick Taylor combined for 7-of-10 shooting from 3-point range to pace Morton at the Potterdome.
The Potters dropped to 1-4 in the M-I. They resume conference play Jan. 11 at Canton.
Dullard led the squad with 14 points, 12 of which came in the second half.
Taylor was 4-of-5 from the floor and tallied eight of his 13 points in the second half.
"That's something we kind of expected going into the season," MHS head coach Jarrett Brown said of the outside touch Dullard and Taylor delivered against Metamora. "We're really happy with that."
Taylor regularly has provided a spark off the bench seeing action in more than half the game. He easily scored the most of any reserve.
Chen drew praise from both Brown and Metamora head coach Danny Grieves.
"He's a good player, one of the best at seeking contact and holding contact," Brown said of Chen.
"He's putting some games together right now," said Grieves of Chen. "I'm real proud of his progression."
David Rossi added eight points and six assists for Morton.
"I thought we played well offensively at times. We're starting to trust one another offensively," said Brown. "I continue to be proud of the guys and the way they work."
The Redbirds led 9-4 in the first quarter before a Potter spurt created a 15-15 deadlock.
Dullard had two treys. In between, Rossi completed a pass to Taylor over the middle for a lay-up.
Taylor answered Chen's third bucket of the period with a 3 with five seconds left.
Metamora registered the first six points of the second quarter until a 9-2 run gave Morton its first lead of the night.
A Rossi field goal, preceding two triples by Dullard, knotted the game before Brent Waibel split two free throws.
Jake Morsch forged another tie before Chen sent the Redbirds to the locker room with a 28-26 advantage with a hoop with two seconds left.
The Potters did not score for the first 5 minutes, 1 second of the third period, and the guests upped their lead to nine points.
However, a Taylor 3, preceding buckets by Waibel and Rossi, brought Morton within 39-34 with 1:12 left in the third.
Taylor dialed long distance again, but Chen's second offensive rebound in a frantic end-of-quarter sequence netted a buzzer-beating basket, making it 43-37.
Page 2 of 2 - Field goals by Rossi and Dullard got the Potters in a one-possession game.
Morton, however, had a dry spell of 2 minutes, 28 seconds, during which Metamora inched its lead to 52-44.
The Potters never got closer than seven points the rest of the game.
Waibel led Morton with five rebounds. He had two steals, along with Rossi and Weston Feucht.
Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament
This was the reward for Morton's hard work.
The Potters pulled off the day's biggest surprise Thursday with a 43-37 win over Rockford Boylan, the tournament's No. 2 seed.
Morton (2-9) outscored the Titans 28-15 in the second half to advance to the quarterfinals.
The Potters and Boylan have met six times in the last seven Pekin tournaments. Each squad now has won three times.
Dullard and Morsch co-led Morton with 11 points. The team stopped a four-game losing skid.
Taylor, who along with Dullard had a pair of 3s, finished with nine points.
Rossi notched six points for the Potters, who played Chicago Mt. Carmel in a Friday afternoon contest.
Brock Stull had a game-high 16 points for cold-shooting Boylan.
Despite an upset loss by fourth-seeded Limestone, the Mid-Illini went 3-1 on the first day at the PIHT.
More tournament action: A victory over Plainfield East, sandwiched between losses to Chicago Mt. Carmel and Richwoods, left Morton in sixth place at Pekin.
Check back at this website and see the Jan. 9 edition of the Morton Times-News for a tournament recap.