Pekin boys basketball coach Jeff Walraven said his team played some of its best basketball of the season at the 53rd annual Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament.

That includes the Dragons' 42-40 loss Friday to Lake Zurich at Hawkins Gym in the fifth-place game.

"I know it was a loss, but our kids competed and a game like that is a great learning experience," Walraven said. "We haven't had many close games this season."
Lake Zurich (9-4) is a good team, big and talented.

"We held them to 42 points. Great defensive effort," Walraven said.

The coach also liked the fact that several of his players stepped up in the game against the Bears. He mentioned Jack Halstead, Christian Hill, Adam Cash, Patrick

Torrey and Jace Link, who sat a lot because of foul trouble but made two huge baskets down the stretch.

Link's three-point play with 1:45 left tied the game 38-38 after Lake Zurich had built an 11-point lead early in the third quarter.
Peter DiCerbo's layup gave the Bears a 40-38 lead, but Link's drive to the hoop deadlocked the game again 40-40 with 1:17 to go.

Lake Zurich played for a last shot and DiCerbo scored off a lob from Ryan Kutsor with 4.6 seconds left after the Bears called a timeout with 12.4 seconds to go.

Pekin (6-8) called time out after DiCerbo's hoop and put the ball in play under the Lake Zurich basket. Link's 3-point attempt from half court fell short at the buzzer.

Justin Taphorn led Pekin with eight points. Cash and Link each had seven points, and Cash had five steals. Mitchell Cascia of the Dragons didn't score, but he had seven rebounds.

DiCerbo had 12 points and six rebounds for Lake Zurich. J.R. Cison and Kutsor each had 10 points.

Pekin split its four games in the three-day, 16-team tournament.

After opening with a 56-44 win over Arlington Heights Hersey, the Dragons fell 49-43 to Champaign Centennial and beat Washington 34-24 before facing Lake Zurich.
Pekin played 14 games in a busy first five weeks of the season. Now the Dragons get a break until they host Washington and Peoria Notre Dame this coming weekend.

"We'll be able to get in a good week of practice (this week) and focus on our skills. We've been using our practices most to get ready for the next game," Walraven said.

"I told our guys we need to look at what we did in the tournament as a platform, not a plateau. I'm encouraged because we're playing defense more correctly than we have all season."

Pekin's tournament win over Washington won't count in the Mid-Illini Conference standings even though both teams are in the conference.

This coming Friday's game, however, will be a conference game.
Pekin and Washington are among four teams tied for first place in the eight-team conference with a 3-1 record. The others are Morton and Metamora.

"We need to protect our home court and steal a few games on the road," Walraven said about his team's chances of winning the Mid-Illini title.

All three Dragons' wins in the Mid-Illini have been in Hawkins Gym (Dunlap, Canton, East Peoria). They lost their lone road game, at Morton.

Steve Stein can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.