Illinois Valley Central's basketball team gave Dunlap everything it could Feb. 5 and it was almost enough. In the end, however, the Eagles won at home, 44-41.
"That was a tough game," coach Joe Mintus said. "Going over there is never easy. We had some kids who were a little under the weather and a little banged up. We didn't make the plays we needed to win the game. We missed open shots and they took advantage of it."
The teams set the tone for the evening as a back-and-forth battle throughout the opening quarter.
IVC would make a shot, Dunlap would answer and back and forth the teams went for the first eight minutes.
The Ghosts held a slim 12-10 lead after the opening quarter.
In the second frame, Dunlap's defense awoke and clamped down on the Ghosts, creating pressure that caused turnovers and poor shots.
AJ Johnson, for his part, prevented the Ghosts from getting blanked by sinking shots over Dunlap defenders when the opportunities arose.
Johnson led the Ghosts with 14 points for the game.
The Eagles spent the minutes before halftime clawing through IVC's lead and building one of their own.
At halftime, Dunlap led 23-19.
IVC continued racking up points in the third quarter but so did Dunlap and the teams again passed scores back and forth.
The Eagles created shot opportunities by taking their time with passes to set up the best shot possible.
After three quarters, Dunlap led 35-29.
IVC overcame the deficit in the fourth quarter with two free throws from Ben Rashid.
Sam Reuter split a pair of free throws with 1:19 left in the game to give IVC a 38-37 lead.
Dunlap responded with a two-pointer and several free throws to take a 44-41 lead.
At the buzzer, Konnor Smithson sent a deep trey to the hoop that barely missed, giving Dunlap the win.
"We let one slip away over there," Mintus said. "Neither team was at full strength and we both knew that we would end up playing each other again. We play them in the first round of the Regional, and we have to play better that time."
The team bounced back with a 64-44 road win over Princeton at home Friday.
"That was probably the best half of basketball we played all year," Mintus said of the opening half. "That game was a tale of two halves. The first half, we looked incredible and made Princeton look not so good. Our pressure got to them in the first half."
IVC wasted no time proving itself the superior team when it started the game on a 22-2 run.
Page 2 of 3 - Defensively, the press and speed of the Ghosts prevented Princeton from setting up any kind of offense, forcing bad shots and turnovers.
The Tiger defense, on the other hand, was nonexistent and IVC racked up shot after shot at will from all over the court.
Whether it was sharpshooting from the perimeter or physical drives to the hoop, IVC could do no wrong in the first half.
Johnson, who led the team with 15 points, blasted in shots from open spots on the floor when the opportunities arose and distributed the ball to open teammates when he was covered.
By halftime, the IVC barrage gave the Ghosts a 41-13 lead.
Princeton, not content to go away, turned the tables on the Ghosts and went on a 17-4 run in the third quarter.
"In the second half, we took a break and they made a run," Mintus said. "The kids understand that we didn't finish the game like we started. That was disappointing but it was a win and we are happy with that."
Nothing the Ghosts did could get consistent high-percentage shots past the Tigers while Princeton's offense could not be stopped.
With eight minutes left, IVC's lead was cut to 45-30.
In the final frame, both offenses clicked, but the Ghosts put up enough points to cruise to the win.
The Ghosts closed a busy week with a 64-57 road loss to East Moline Saturday.
"That was just a tough game," Mintus said. "We had a two hour bus ride over there to start it. They are a team that's record is not good but that plays every team tough this year. They are a physical and aggressive team that gets after you.
"We were right in the game, we just didn't play very well. We were 13 for 27 from the free-throw line, we gave up 18 offensive rebounds and we just didn't do the things it takes to win on the road. We didn't take care of our business."
The game started as a shootout and kept the theme running throughout all four quarters.
Reilly Owens had no trouble knocking down shots over East Moline defenders to charge the Ghost offense from the get-go.
Owens led the team with 17 points for the game.
East Moline, for its part, scored almost at will as well but IVC held a 14-12 lead after the first quarter.
The teams again traded baskets throughout the second quarter and, after the opening half, both sides were tied at 26.
After two solid quarters, East Moline had its best frame of the game in the third quarter by putting up 25 points.
Page 3 of 3 - Nothing the Ghost defense did seemed to work as East Moline blasted in shot after shot from any open spot on the floor.
IVC did not have a bad quarter offensively but the defensive lapses gave East Moline a 51-39 advantage with eight minutes left.
Down the stretch, the Ghosts outscored East Moline but could not put up enough points to dig out of the hole.
The Ghosts start the home Regional at 6 p.m. Feb. 25 against Dunlap.
"We just have to get better and that is part of late season games, especially going on the road," Mintus said. "I thought our bench got some good minutes against East Moline and I think that they made the most of it. That's very encouraging.
"The kids understand that we have a tough hill ahead of us. We will have 13 days off before the Regional but we have a tough Regional."