Metamora took a firm grasp Friday night on the Mid-Illini Conference boys basketball championship.
The Redbirds won their second straight game against a contender, beating Pekin 47-41 at home at jam-packed Toepke Gymnasium.
Metamora knocked off Morton 54-38 on the road Feb. 9.
Thanks to those wins, Metamora (19-8, 9-2) put some distance between itself, two-time defending Mid-Illini champion Morton (16-11, 9-3) and Pekin (12-12, 8-4) as the race for the conference title hits the home stretch.
“We had to win both those games, or we wouldn’t have a chance to be conference champs,” Metamora coach Danny Grieves said.
Tough defense and nearly perfect shooting by 6-foot-5 junior Gabe Mason played huge roles in Metamora’s victory over Pekin, which had won four straight Mid-Illini games including the previous three by a combined 75 points.
“We didn’t shoot well. Not like we did in our last few games,” said Pekin coach Jeff Walraven. “Metamora did a good job getting to our shooters and making them shoot over high hands. That made it difficult for us because they’re such a tall team. We have some tall assistant coaches who worked with our guys in practice, but its tough to simulate game intensity in practice.”
Grieves said stopping Pekin’s long-range attack was a focus. The Dragons were just 4-for-18 on triples.
“Patrick Torrey is a very good player,” Grieves said about the Dragons' 6-7 senior center. “But we wanted to make Pekin beat us with his 2s. Pekin is a tremendous three-point shooting team.”
Speaking of triples, Mason went 4-for-5 from behind the arc and he made four straight free throws in the final three minutes to finish with 16 points.
Mason’s three first-half 3-pointers from the baseline helped Metamora move in front 23-17 at halftime. He also had a triple in the third quarter.
Metamora took a 32-28 lead into the fourth quarter. Pekin crawled within a point (37-36) with 3:44 to go on a 3-pointer by Max Jones and a three-point play by Tyler Durr, but the Redbirds held off the Dragons the rest of the way.
Collin Dietz had a dozen points along with eight rebounds for Metamora, Joe Nelan had eight points and Payton Havens had seven points.
Torrey scored a game-high 17 points and he had 11 rebounds. Jones had six points for the Dragons and Brady Grashoff, Justin Taphorn and Durr each had five.
Torrey is the lone senior in Pekin’s rotation.
“For a lot of our guys, this was their first experience in a game that really mattered (in the Mid-Illini race),” Walraven said. “We’ll focus on the positives, learn from the things we did poorly at the end of the game, and move on.”
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.