PROPHETSTOWN — Maintaining a lead was something the Kewanee boys' basketball team had no issues doing on Thursday night. Gaining separation, though, was an issue.|
All that changed late in the fourth quarter.
Consistent defensive stops and perfect foul shooting allowed the Boilermakers to finally extend a wire-to-wire lead. Kewanee forced Prophetstown into eight fourth-quarter turnovers and converted its last 10 free throws to snag a 78-63 Three Rivers Conference victory.
"We tried to extend the lead as much as possible," Kewanee senior guard Matt Gustafson said. "We just made some mental mistakes."
Offensive efficiency kept Kewanee (18-3, 11-0 TRAC-9) ahead from the opening basket to the final horn. Defensive inconsistencies allowed the Prophets (12-13, 5-7) to stay close even when the Boilermakers twice had eight-point leads in the second half.
Prophetstown countered with a run of its own, with its last cutting the deficit to 66-62 as it held the ball with 3:02 left. Gustafson then sealed the deal, forcing a steal near the mid-court line and converting an uncontested layup to push the lead to 68-62.
"It always helps to make a defensive play," Gustafson said. "It gets everyone fired up."
After that, Kewanee scored 10 of the game's last 11 points to get its ninth consecutive win.
"That was the play that energized us to make that run," said Kewanee coach Steve Salisbury, whose team hit all 10 foul shots in the final 70 seconds. "For sure."
Down two points midway through the fourth, the Prophets went the final 3:26 without a field goal.
"It comes down to composure and execution," said Prophetstown coach Cordell Juhola, who received 18 points from Carter Ames and 17 from Devin Johnson. "Untimely errors ... "
While the Boilermakers were frustrated with spotty defensive play and their inability to put the game away when they had chances, they did play their best when it mattered most. Kewanee hit 10 of its 11 fourth-quarter foul shots and thwarted every Prophetstown rally attempt with solid defense.
What helped keep the lead was a balanced scoring attack, with Dayton Ince (18 points), Donovan Oliver (16), Gustafson (12), Ryan Hicks (11) and Jared Nimrick (10) all reaching double figures.
"It wasn't our best game, but it was a good game," Salisbury said. "We fought through some adversity and showed signs of maturity."
Better yet, the Boilermakers never trailed. Looking back, that's a good thing.
"We've been doing well this year of keeping a lead, even how slight it is," Gustafson said. "We do a good job of making (the opponent) play from behind."