Three scorers would be enough for the Canton Little Giants in their Mid-Illini Conference contest against visiting Pekin Friday night at Alice Ingersoll Gym.
Canton led by as many as 10 points in the second half. But the Dragons battled back with a last-second chance to win before following just short in dropping a 45-44 decision to the hosts.
Canton improved to 4-1 overall, while Pekin dropped to 1-5. Both teams saw their conference records move to 1-1.
“We’re at the point and the time already in the season from last year to now where moral victories means that it’s just another loss,” said Pekin coach Jeff Walraven. “We need to be able to put the ball in the basket at a better clip than we are now.”
Pekin shot just 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) from 3-point range. That included 3-of-13 (23.1 percent) in the second half.
“They were all within the offense and they were all pretty darned good shots,” said Walraven. “We had clear looks at the basket, we just didn’t make them.”
That included Pekin’s last possession after Lucas Ketcham scored on a layup with 10 seconds remaining to give Canton the one-point lead.
Ben Cash brought the ball up the floor and dished the ball to an open Jace Link on the wing. His 3-pointer would be short and Cooper Smith grabbed the rebound and dribbled out the final seconds.
“Coach Murphy always does a good job with his kids,” said Walraven. “They always play hard.”
The Little Giants got 20 points from Ketcham, along with 20 from Garrett Brant. The sophomore scored 17 in the opening half, 13 in the second period when the Little Giants went from trailing 12-10 to taking a 30-23 lead at the break.
“He didn’t wait until the fourth quarter to get going,” said Canton coach Jay Murphy of Brant. “He got us going early.
“And I was really proud of Lucas Ketcham,” he added. “I kind of challenged him this week. That’s why he didn’t start, to get in his head a little bit. It must’ve worked.”
“To me, the game boiled down to a couple of things,” said Walraven “We lost (Brant) a couple of times within our defense and he nailed three 3s to extend their lead in the second quarter. And they got some putbacks on offensive rebounds because we didn’t do a good enough job of clearing those boards.”
A Brant free throw gave Canton a 37-27 lead with 1:29 left in the third quarter. But the Dragons got 3s from Zach Sullivan and a last-second contested trey by Mason Carr to close the gap to 37-33 entering the final eight minutes.
The two teams would trade the lead in the final 73 seconds.
A basket by Link gave Pekin a 42-41 lead with 1:13 to go. But Ketcham was fouled and made two free throws with 57.1 seconds that made it 43-42. Link would then make a pair of free throws at the other end with 39.1 second left to give the Dragons a one-point before Ketcham’s layup.
“When Pekin took the lead late, we kept our composure,” said Murphy. “That was the big thing. In years past we wouldn’t have kept our composure.”
Cooper Smith had Canton’s other five points.
“I think Cooper (Smith) is a marked man in our league,” said Murphy. “They bottled him up pretty good. But he didn’t force a lot and he got it to the open man and Garrett (Brant) knocked down shots, which Garrett’s got to do.”
Cash led Pekin with 16 points, while Link added 10 for the Dragons.
The JV contest saw Canton record a 42-36 victory. The Little Giants outscored Pekin 15-4 in the second period in building a 30-18 halftime lead before hanging on late.
Caleb Miller topped Canton with 14 points, followed by Trey Passmore (12), Jake Smith (10), Micah Barnhart (nine) and Doug Cannon (seven).
Brady Grashoff and Braden Brown topped Pekin with 12 points each.