PEOTONE — It was a tough trip to Peotone for the Streator Bulldogs on Tuesday night in more ways than one.
First it was the dense fog that made traveling to the game a challenge, then a mix of tough zone defenses by the Blue Devils made scoring opportunities hard to come by. Streator, which trailed by four at halftime and three heading to the fourth, used a game-high 25 points and four steals from this week's Prime Times Player, Mitch Vickers, a 3-pointer from John Benckendorf with three minutes to go and solid defense that held the hosts scoreless the final six minutes of the contest to eventually take the Interstate Eight Conference tilt 40-37 after surviving a game-tying 3 try at the final horn.
Vickers connected on 7 of 11 shots from beyond the arc — just one 3 shy of J.J. Cravatta's school record — including all four attempts in the third frame. Noah Mascal and Wes Jolly (seven rebounds) each added six points each, while Joey Byers posted seven rebounds, two assists and a trio of steals.
Peotone was led by 10 points apiece by Jack O'Boyle and Caleb Hunter.
"I thought we were executing well on offense and pretty solid defense the first six minutes of the game, but they were able to get free for a couple jumpshots there in the second to get the lead," said Streator coach Beau Doty, his club now 17-7 overall and 7-2 in the I-8. "We haven't seen a lot of 2-3 zones this season, but I felt we ran our stuff much better, cut harder and let guys get open in the second half.
"It also helps when Mitch gets on a heater like he did. That makes everything else look good."
The Bulldogs held a 12-10 lead after one with Vickers netting eight points, including a triple in the final seconds of the period. Jolly's low-post hoop opened the second, but a putback by Jack Halverson and a trey from Trevor Schwiesow put the Blue Devils up 16-14 with 2 minutes, 33 seconds to go before the break. Layups from O'Boyle and Hunter in the final two minutes had the home team ahead 20-16 at the intermission.
"We are starting to find our identity and the defenses we're comfortable in, but we have tried a little bit of everything," said Peotone coach Bryce Shafer, his team falling to 7-17 overall and 2-8 in the league. "We are better than our record shows, for sure.
"To be honest, tonight I really didn't care about if we won or lost, it was more of a dry run for the upcoming regionals ... doing things that I feel will help us be successful in the postseason. Streator is a really good (Class) 3A team, and with the way we played, a 2A team, I feel good with where we are at right now."
Trailing 27-21 after a turnaround jumper by Halverson at 6:09, a Jolly layup and 3-pointers from each wing by Vickers put the visitors back in front. Peotone responded with an 8-0 run, with consecutive 3-balls from O'Boyle and Hunter, plus a Halverson drive, but back-to-back 3s from Vickers to end the third and start the fourth tied the game at 37-all. Mascal and Hunter traded hoops to keep the game knotted until Benckendorf's 3 from the left corner put the locals ahead for good with 2:52 to go.
The teams traded missed shots and turnovers until O'Boyle's 24-footer from the left wing rimmed off as the horn sounded.
"We wanted to get the ball to Halverson in that final possession off a ball screen, but Streator double-teamed him," said Shafer. "He made a good pass, and you couldn't ask for a better shot for a chance to tie things at the end. (O'Boyle) has made a couple of those for us this year, but tonight it just didn't go down."
"We did a good job of executing some of our quick hitters on the fly in the second half and against the box-and-1 they threw on Mitch there," Doty said. "We hadn't seen a (box-and-1) since the La Salle-Peru game. I would have liked to see us finish the game a little stronger as far as taking care of the rock, but to see John hit a huge 3 and make a couple of nice defensive plays late was nice."
Streator 40, Peotone 37
(Key: FG-FGA FT-FTA TP)
STREATOR (40) — Vickers 8-16 2-2 25, Byers 0-3 0-1 0, Benckendorf 1-5 0-0 3, N. Mascal 3-8 0-1 6, Jolly 3-8 0-0 6, M. Benning 0-1 0-0 0, Cantrell 0-0 0-0 0, Telford 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-42 2-4 40.
PEOTONE (37) — Marganski 1-6 3-3 6, O'Boyle 4-9 0-0 10, Hunter 4-12 1-2 10, Halverson 4-11 0-0 8, Bettenhausen 0-1 0-0 0, Koehn 0-0 0-0 0, Gasik 0-2 0-0 0, Schwiesow 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 14-44 4-5 37.
Streator (17-7, 7-2) 12 4 16 8 — 40
Peotone (7-17, 2-8) 10 10 15 2 — 37
3-point goals — Streator 8-21 (Vickers 7-11, Byers 0-1, Benckendorf 1-4, N. Mascal 0-3, M. Benning 0-1, Telford 0-1); Peotone 5-22 (Marganski 1-5, O'Boyle 2-4, Hunter 1-3, Halverson 0-4, Bettenhausen 0-1, Gasik 0-2, Schwiesow 1-3). Rebounds — Streator 30 (Byers 7, Jolly 7); Peotone 25 (Hunter 7, Halverson 7). Assists — Streator 8 (Benckendorf 3); Peotone 5 (O'Boyle 3). Steals — Streator 9 (Vickers 4, Byers 3); Peotone 6 (O'Boyle 3). Blocks — Streator 1 (N. Mascal 1); Peotone 3 (Hunter 2). Turnovers — Streator 13, Peotone 11. Total fouls (fouled out) — Streator 10 (N. Mascal); Peotone 9 (none).