It was Senior Night on Saturday at Metamora, but two Pekin seniors stole the show.
Mason Carr and Ben Cash combined for 42 points and the Dragons beat the Redbirds 59-55 in a hard-fought Mid-Illini Conference boys basketball game played in a packed gymnasium.
Carr scored a career-high 26 points, shooting 8-for-10 from the field including 4-for-6 on three-pointers. He also had a game-high eight rebounds.
The 6-footer made a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the first quarter and a triple in the second quarter that bounced off the top of the backboard and back down through the hoop.
Cash tossed in 16 points and he had five assists.
The two guards were a combined 12-for-17 on free throws. Carr was 6-for-9 and Cash was 6-for-8.
“I’d never scored in the 20’s before (Saturday),” Carr said. “I thought I might have a big night. Something felt different in warm-ups. When I starting making shots during the game, my teammates did a great job getting me the ball and setting screens.”
Pekin coach Jeff Walraven noticed.
“Our guys worked hard to get Mason open for shots,” he said.
The final score is a bit misleading.
The Dragons (11-13, 6-7) took the lead for good in the first quarter (11-8) on a three-point play by Cash and kept building their advantage until they were in front 55-42 with 1:35 left in the game.
Metamora (7-17, 3-10) nearly pulled off a miracle comeback for Coach Danny Grieves, whose mother died early Saturday morning at the nearby Snyder Village nursing home.
Taking advantage of missed free throws, turnovers and fouls committed by Pekin, the Redbirds found themselves with the ball under their own basket in a one-possession game (58-55) with 12.4 seconds left.
After a timeout, Metamora set up Andrew Buis for a three-point attempt but the southpaw missed. Pekin’s Sam McClain rebounded and was fouled.
McClain split two free throws with 3.3 seconds to go.
Grieves said he was fine with Buis, a junior backup guard, taking the potentially game-tying shot because Pekin was focusing its defense on Noah Persich, who scored a game-high 27 points,
“Andrew (Buis) had more three-pointers than anyone in our program last season,” Grieves said. “He had a good look. The ball just didn’t go in.”
Metamora scored six points in less than five seconds to put itself with striking distance.
Greg Cluskey’s three-point play cut Pekin’s lead to 56-49 with 30.4 seconds to go. After a Pekin turnover, Persich sank a triple with 25.5 seconds left to make it 56-52.
Grieves said it took shot-making and extra effort from his team to make its run at the end of the game.
“It’s difficult to come back against Pekin because they do such a great job with ball control on offense,” he said. “The one thing I don’t have to coach here is effort and we needed that to make plays at the end.”
Pekin was just 12-for-24 at the foul line in the fourth quarter including 4-for-12 in the final 1:35. But Christian Hill came off the bench to make a free throw just before Buis’ miss and McClain’s free throw sealed the victory.
“I’ll gladly take this win. Except for the last minute and a half, it was one of our better executed games of the season offensively and defensively,” Walraven said. “Everyone who played for us contributed to the victory.”
Jace Link scored seven points for the Dragons. Zach Sullivan and McClain each had four rebounds. Jack Halstead rebounded a missed shot and tossed in a reverse layup at the buzzer to give Pekin a 27-23 halftime lead.
Persich, a 5-11 senior guard who has scored more than 1,000 points in his career, was 8-for-22 from the field and 5-for-16 on triples en route to his 27-point night against Pekin.
Thomas Hall, Austin Wallace and Cluskey each had seven points for Metamora. Cluskey had seven rebounds and Persich, Hall and Wallace each had five boards.
Pekin’s cold fourth-quarter free throw shooting contributed greatly to the Dragons’ 17-for-30 night at the line. Metamora was 8-for-10 on free throws in the fourth quarter and 12-for-17 for the game.
Here are some other telling fourth-quarter stats:
Six of the Dragons’ 10 turnovers came in the quarter. Thirteen of Metamora’s 26 rebounds were in the quarter. The Redbirds were 7-for-21 from the field and 2-for-14 on triples in the quarter.