Washington falls out of tie

Bryan Veginski
Mark Roth, a Washington senior, extends to grab a rebound in the second quarter Friday at Morton. The Panthers lost, 44-40, in a battle of Mid-Illini Conference first-place boys basketball teams. Washington enters action this week with a 16-8 overall record and 8-3 mark in the M-I.

The Morton boys basketball made more plays late Friday to snap a tie and elevate to a victory over Washington.

In a fourth quarter that featured an even score four times, the Potters went ahead to stay with 55.9 seconds left in a 44-40 Mid-Illini Conference final.

The Panthers fell to 8-3 and in third place in the league, one game behind Morton and Metamora, which also won over the weekend.

The Potters outscored Washington 33-21 in the second half to avenge a 26-point loss in the teams’ first meeting Dec. 17.

“I thought that we had to attack a little harder than we did,” WCHS head coach Kevin Brown said. “Defensively, we had some things they were hurting us on.”

Alec Peters produced a game-high 17 points for the Panthers 6-of-12 shooting. He sank five three-pointers.

“Alec did some good things tonight,” said Brown of the sophomore guard.

Morton netted the first four points of the night, but Washington ran off seven straight. The guests held the Potters scoreless for 7:53.

The Panthers rained in a trio of triples in an 11-3 spurt that gave them a 19-11 edge at halftime.

Peters and Mark Roth combined for all the points in that segment.

Washington was on top by eight at the 4:30 mark of the third quarter after a Peters trey.

But Morton closed with a 10-4 spree to draw within 30-28 at the end of the period. Five points came in the last 29.7 seconds.

The Panthers’ buckets came in a span of 23 seconds, the first on a nice dish from Nick Finney to Dalton Wagler, who had all six of his points in the last 14 minutes.

Forwards Tyler Lundeen (15 points) and Brett Bisping (10) combined for 23 of their 25 points in the second half.

“I thought they got some real quality touches out of their top two,” Brown said of Morton getting the ball to Lundeen and Bisping.

Mark Roth, who had 10 points, evened the game twice in the fourth at the free-throw line after a Will Headean trey opened the frame.

After the Potters went ahead 37-33, Washington answered with a Wagler deuce at 3:50 and, following a Morton turnover, a Peters three with 2:47 remaining.

The last deadlock was at 40 after Tucker Harlan made two foul shots at 1:19. Brown said he thought Harlan stepped up after being called upon at point guard.

The Potters grabbed a 41-40 advantage with :55.9 to go on a free throw.

In the final 45 seconds, Washington committed a pair of turnovers and Morton made 3-of-4 attempts at the line to seal the win.

Brown said the difference since the first game is the Potters have found their offensive identity and Washington “caught them off guard a little bit.”

WCHS 49, Central 45

The Panthers recovered Saturday from the previous night’s disappointment for a road victory over the Lions.

Ben Ryan had a game-leading 15 points for Washington (16-8), which knocked off the co-No. 4-ranked team in the Feb. 9 Associated Press Class 3A state poll.

Wagler added 10 points and Peters nine as the Panthers went to Peoria and ended a brief two-game losing streak.

Darian White had a dozen points for Central, which mustered only four points in the second quarter.

Washington’s last non-conference game is Tuesday vs. Normal U-High.

More pivotal matchups: Two huge games take place this weekend in Metamora.

Friday, the Redbirds host Morton with the winner moving into sole possession of first place.

Saturday, Washington goes to Woodford County trying for a regular-season sweep of Metamora.

The night before, Washington is in Bartonville to face Limestone, which is tied for fourth place in the conference.

Postseason: Washington was awarded the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A Bloomington Regional.

The Panthers will meet either fourth-seeded Normal U-High or No. 5 seed Pontiac at 7:30 p.m. March 1 in the semifinals.

The winner will advance to the regional final against No. 2 seed Metamora or third-seeded Bloomington at 7:30 p.m. March 4.