It’s been a superb few weeks for Pekin’s Jace Link.
The 6-foot-3 junior has emerged as a go-to scorer for the Pekin boys basketball team.
Over the last three games, he is averaging 19 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 20-for-25 at the free-throw line for 80 percent.
In those games, the Dragons are 2-1, including a sweep of Mid-Illini Conference home games Feb. 3-4 over Canton and East Peoria.
The reason for the emergence has been simple.
“He’s been aggressive,” Pekin coach Jeff Walraven said. “For high school kids, that’s over half the issue — confidence and being aggressive with the basketball.”
What Link hasn’t been doing during the stretch is forcing bad shots, Walraven said.
He is averaging 10.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and is shooting 55.1 percent from the floor for the Dragons (10-12, 5-6) this season.
On Saturday against Morton, Link went 6-for-7 from the floor and scored 10 of his team-high 22 points in the paint, while knocking down his only triple attempt.
“Towards the beginning of the season, I was focused on shooting jump shots and lately I’ve been attacking the basket more,” Link said. “I haven’t been leaving out the jump shot, though. I’ve hit a couple threes the last couple games.”
He’s scored at least 10 points in the paint in each of the last three games and is a mismatch for opposing defenders.
“He’s a sneaky athletic kid,” Walraven said. “He’s got a good first step, he jumps well and he’s got long arms. He’s shooting from the outside better. It makes him a tough matchup.”
Defensively, the long-armed junior has nine steals over the last three games — and 1.2 per game this season — to go along three blocks including the game-sealing swat Feb. 3 against Canton in the final seconds.
Perhaps there was no bigger play than that block, which stopped a two-game losing skid for Pekin and prompted a two-game win streak.
“It was a great weekend, getting those two wins,” Link said. “We had momentum and great energy. We had a lot of fans in the Fire Pit.”
Pekin’s loss at the Potterdome Saturday featured a marquee matchup between Link and Morton’s Barik Olden.
The duo combined to go 13-of-14 from the field for 39 points.
Physically, the two share a similar makeup. Each are long and have the ability to shoot and take the ball to the basket.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Link played the role of Olden on the scout team during the Dragons’ practices.
The near identical body types helped Link in Saturday’s game.
“He’s really long and lanky just like me,” Link said. “I think he’s an inch taller than me, but we play a really similar game. It really helped out.”
While Link is excelling on the floor and providing Pekin with another scoring threat, his work from the free-throw line helps bolster his offensive numbers.
He is shooting 73.2 percent from the line this season.
The efficiency from the stripe hasn’t been free. The junior has been staying after practice to get free throws up and has been participating in contests during practice.
“As all high school teams go through it, your shooting percentages vary from game to game,” Walraven said. “Your ability to get to the free-throw line masks any deficiencies you have sometimes.”
Pekin hosts red-hot, state-ranked, Washington at 7 p.m. Friday and travels to Metamora Saturday before finishing the regular season at home against Limestone next Friday.
The Washington game will carry extra emotion for Link. Prior to the game, long-time scorekeeper Clair Park will be honored for his 45 years keeping the book for the Dragons.
“I’ve grown close to him over the three years I’ve been here,” Link said. “I’ll be sad to see him go.”