The tournament upset run by Pekin ended but not before putting a serious scare in the fourth-ranked team in Class 4A.
After having a seven-point halftime lead and a lead in every quarter Tuesday night, Pekin eventually succumbed to Danville’s fast-paced tempo in a 68-57 loss in the East Moline Sectional semifinals.
Danville’s full-court pressure eventually caused turnovers and hesitation in Pekin’s methodical half-court style and the Vikings used a 45-27 second-half run to pull away.
“We just got sped up there late and that is something we just haven’t let happen to us in the three previous regional games and even some games before that too,” Pekin head coach Jeff Walraven said. “We knew it was going to happen at some point (in the second half) and unfortunately, we put a lot of pressure on the possessions where we didn’t turn it over to get points.”
Pekin, which had already knocked off No. 3-ranked Normal Community in the regional semifinals on Feb. 26, ran off an early 7-2 lead in the first three minutes of action thanks to textbook ball movement and its 2-3 zone limiting Danville to just one shot per possession.
Pekin (17-13) was led by Patrick Torrey, its only senior in the starting lineup, and his team-high 21 points. Torrey was able to get high percentage touches the entire evening on a smaller Danville frontcourt and the 6-foot-7 center was able to hit nine of Pekin’s 23 field goals in his final high school game. Torrey was key in igniting a 11-2 Pekin run to end the first half where he made a pair of baskets and two free throws to see the Dragons run off with a 30-23 lead after 16 minutes of action.
“I have no problem telling anybody that getting the ball to Patrick is our plan every game and he did a phenomenal job finishing around the basket tonight with several defenders around him,” Walraven said.
Danville, which has now been behind in each of its three postseason wins, was forced to rely on the outside shooting of senior guard Sean Houpt to keep within striking distance in the first quarter.
Houpt, who is the son of Vikings head coach Ted Houpt, scored a game-high 25 but didn’t score in a second quarter where he picked up two quick fouls.
“The bad news is (the slow starts) take years off all of our lives on the bench but the good news is it helps you each time to know you’ve been here before and you can overcome it,” Coach Houpt said. “I’ve been telling them the last two games that it is OK to start out a game well. I haven’t said it publicly because I want people to think I’ve got this magic that I’m working.”
Pekin took a nine-point lead to the delight of its emotionally charged crowd that consisted of multiple buses and hundreds of fans that made the 97-mile journey to East Moline to fill up United Township High School’s “Panther Den” gymnasium to create a homecourt atmosphere for the Dragons. It was an atmosphere that was impossible for Sean Houpt to block out during pre-game warmups.
“So, we run out of the locker room and there are hundreds of people in red screaming at me and I was a little taken aback,” Sean Houpt said. “We kind of fed off their crowd in the second half and their energy to our advantage.”
Danville’s pressure defense didn’t allow Pekin’s guards to find Torrey nearly enough in the third quarter where the Vikings (31-3) used a 9-2 run to take only its third lead of the evening.
Once Torrey got Pekin within a bucket in the fourth quarter, Danville guards Tevin Smith and Nathanial Hoskins’ athleticism took over for a 10-2 run to seemingly end all hope for another Dragons upset. Smith and Hoskins would combine to finish with 29 points and 19 of them came in the second half.
Danville advances to play Belleville West, the defending Class 4A state champions, on Friday for the right to advance to play at Redbird Arena in the Normal Supersectional next week.
After wins over Peoria High, Normal Community and Rock Island last week in the regional round, Walraven hopes the Dragons can build on this improbable run with four starters returning next year.
“The support tonight means everything in the world and the guys did an incredible job of competing against very high-level competition in this state when you think of (Peoria) Central, Rock Island and the No. 4-rated team in Danville,” Walraven said. “I hope to continue to build off this postseason success. Losing Pat is big, figuratively and literally so it’ll be a different team.”