PEKIN — It’s always more fun to win. But teams can often become even better from lessons learned from losses.
Morton hopes the latter will ring true, after the Potters saw a four-point lead in the final two minutes slip through their fingers in a 49-43 loss Friday afternoon to Chicago Mount Carmel in the quarterfinals of the Pekin Holiday Tournament.
After three other area teams lost Thursday openers, No. 2 seed Morton (10-3) was the lone area representative in Dawdy Hawkins gym with hopes of returning to the semifinals after a third-place finish a year ago.
Jarrett Crider’s driving layup with 2:21 remaining put Morton in position up 42-38. But the Potters missed their final five shots, as Mount Carmel controlled the boards late and finished on an 11-1 push to pull away.
“You just hope you can see in a tight game like that how every possession is gold,” Morton coach Matt Franks said. “When you’re playing a really good team like Mount Carmel, the lesson learned there is defensively and offensively you’ve got to be executing at your best at the end of the game. The majority of the second half, we controlled the tempo and did a great job, we just have to finish.”
Using its slow-down, ball-control offense, Morton scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter — five coming from senior Barik Olden — to lead 40-34 with three minutes left. But the final minutes belong to Mount Carmel.
The Caravan (11-3) answered Crider’s layup with a free throw, a 3-pointer from Liam McDonagh and a three-point play from Andre Bennett for a seven-point run and a 45-42 lead with 1:08 left. The Caravan made just enough free throws to keep Morton away from there.
“We have to look at the positives,” said Crider, who finished with 16 points. “We dictated the pace for three quarters. Those last two minutes were pretty uncharacteristic of our team. We close out a lot of games, but we have to take this game and learn what we did wrong. We missed a couple 50-50 balls at the end and shots didn’t go our way. Learn from it and don’t let it happen again.”
Olden, who scored 13, agreed.
“They’re a really athletic team and that’s a team we need to beat going forward if we want to progress through regionals,” Olden said. “It was a good Chicago area school that was really physical and made us tougher mentally and physically."
Mount Carmel outrebounded Morton 32-22.
“They were denying and handsy and we need to get better getting ourselves open and running our stuff,” Olden said. “(And) we’re not the tallest team to begin with, so to be able to win games down the road, we need to be able to box out and rebound against teams that are bigger and more athletic than us.”
Frank is counting on his seniors to respond positively.
“We have good leadership," said Frank, whose team was sent to a late Friday consolation semifinal against Lake Zurich. "The seniors will regroup our guys and we’ll be OK.”
Crider expects the Potters to course correct and be stronger as the season and the Mid-Illini grind continues after the tourney.
“We’re a pretty veteran group,” said the all-tourney selection last year. “Last year it took us a while to click on all cylinders, but this year we’ve really turned it out on defense and on offense we move the ball and play together so well. Execution is a big thing. Obviously, it didn’t happen today, but I still have 100 percent faith in this team.”
Stan Morris can be reached at 686-3214 or smorris@pjstar. Follow him on Twitter @StanMorrisPJS.