The Pekin boys basketball team’s home opener Saturday night was a big success for the Dragons.
They defeated Dunlap 59-42 at Hawkins Gym in a Mid-Illini Conference game, taking the lead for good late in the first quarter.
“There’s plenty to work on, but it was a good win for us,” said Pekin coach Jeff Walraven. “It’s important to win your conference opener and protect your home floor.”
The Dragons (2-3, 1-0) shot a blistering 62 percent from the field, going 24-for-39, and they made Dunlap (1-5, 0-2) pay for its 12 turnovers, turning them into 24 points.
Eagles coach Tony Thomason was impressed with Pekin.
“They worked their tails off and made shots like crazy. They did a great job. They deserved to win,” he said.
Sophomore Max Jones led Pekin with 18 points, shooting 7-for-10 from the field. Christian Hill and Jace Link each had nine points for the Dragons and Mitchell Cascia had eight points along with a team-best five rebounds.
“That’s four guys with at least eight points. That’s our recipe for success. We need contributions offensively from a lot of people,” Walraven said. “I also liked our defensive intensity. We turned steals into easy baskets.”
Isaac Guyton led Dunlap with 13 points, but he shot just 5-for-15 from the field. Kellian Thomas (12) and Thomas Wallace (10) also scored in double figures for the Eagles.
All nine of Thomas’ shots were 3-pointers. He made four of them.
The 6-foot-5 Wallace gave Pekin all kinds of problems inside. He hit all five of his shots and he had a game-high seven rebounds, four on the offensive end.
Dunlap had 11 offensive rebounds overall, a statistic noticed by Walraven.
“We need to box out better,” he said.
Thomason said his team must stay positive despite its slow start.
“The guys need to believe in themselves because we (coaches) believe in them,” he said.
Nineteen of Dunlap’s 41 shots against Pekin were 3-pointers. Thomason would like to see a more balanced attack.
“We went inside-out at times, but we didn’t stick to it,” he said.
The Dragons led 13-7 after the first quarter, moving in front permanently on back-to-back triples by Jones in the final 1:07, the second at the buzzer.
It was 28-20 at halftime — Jones had 14 points, half of Pekin’s total, at the break — and 44-34 after three quarters. Dunlap got within five points twice early in the third quarter (28-23 and 32-27), but never pulled any closer.
Pekin lost three of four games at the Washington Tournament of Champions during Thanksgiving week. Walraven thinks facing tough competition there paid dividends.
“It didn’t hurt, especially for our young guys, who got a good taste of the speed of the game,” he said.
Steve Stein can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.