BATAVIA – The Mooseheart boys basketball team showed it was worthy of its invitation to the prestigious Jim & Sylvia Roberts Night of Hoops showcase, taking a Class 3A state power down to the final minute.
The Ramblers, though, saw their 18-game winning streak snapped, falling to Bartonville Limestone on Saturday, 63-58. Mooseheart standout Makur Puou came inches – maybe less – from tying the game in the late stages, but his shot rolled in-and-out.
Despite the loss, the Ramblers made it clear how tough they'll be to deal with when the 1A postseason begins later this month.
"I don't know if there's a team in 1A that's as talented as they are, a 3A team like them," Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. "But, gosh darn it, we were right there. We ran what we wanted to run, we got the ball to Mak, we had a nice layup to tie it up, and we missed it. That's basketball … we did everything right on that play. He used the backboard, nice cut, we screened for him, and he missed the shot."
After beginning the fourth quarter tied 44-all, Mooseheart (19-3) fell behind by six points before again tightening the seesaw contest.
The Ramblers drew within 56-55 on a Mangisto Deng 3-pointer, and another Deng 3-ball cut Limestone's lead to 59-58 with 1:30 to play.
The Rockets' Lorenzo Burns split a pair of free throws with 39 seconds left for a 60-58 lead, and the Ramblers survived a Limestone offensive rebound to still trail only by two points going into a timeout with 30 seconds left.
Mooseheart executed its ensuing play well, resulting in an inside look for Puou, but his short bank shot rolled in-and-out, and the Ramblers were forced to foul. Limestone's David Anderson made one of two for a 61-58 lead with 21 seconds left.
Coming out of another timeout, it was obvious the Ramblers would look to their best 3-point shooter, Deng, to try and tie the game, and with two defenders flying at him, Deng's 3-point attempt was long with about 9 seconds to play.
Limestone secured the rebound and notched a pair of free throws to ice the game.
Mooseheart was only 6 of 14 from the free throw line, and missed all three of its free throws in the second half.
"I'm happy to play with a strong team like that and just get beat by five," Deng said. "It was good competition. About losing, I'm a little bit frustrated, but it is what it is. It's just a game."
Limestone (21-2) finished third in Class 3A last season.
"I'm pretty sure if we played them next time, we we would beat them," Deng said. "We should win tonight but we missed a couple shots [we should have made]. I missed like four or five. Makur missed the last one. … The ball just came out."
After a slow start, Deng finished with 22 points and had 10 rebounds while the 6-foot-10 Puou had 19 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots. Mooseheart guard Hameed Odunewu added 11 points while 7-1 center Akim Nyang secured nine rebounds.
Limestone led at halftime, 32-27. The Rockets were led by Burns (19 points) and Anderson (17 points, 12 rebounds).
Rockets coach Eddie Mathews said playing a team with the Ramblers' extreme height was a tricky proposition.
"You've got to have teardrops. You've got to float it a little more," Mathews said. "You've got to have that in the arsenal. We're attack the basket, knock down a couple 3s … so we had to make some adjustments."
St. Joseph 58, Batavia 51: Underdog Batavia brought its gymnasium to life in the fourth quarter of the Night of Hoops nightcap against St. Joe, rallying to within one point, but the Bulldogs could come no closer after Canaan Coffey's 3-pointer brought the Bulldogs within 52-51 with 1:05 to play.
Fittingly, an offensive rebound for St. Joe doomed Batavia as Chargers big man Nick Rakocevic tipped in Jordan Ash's miss and was fouled with 45 seconds to go. He missed the free throw, but St. Joe led, 54-51, and Canaan Coffey's attempt to tie it with a 3 with 32 seconds to play rolled out.
St. Joe led by 11 in the third quarter before Batavia surged toward a dramatic finish.
"That was a great team effort, start to finish," Batavia forward Tucker Knox said. "We were on. It was just a couple plays. They killed us on the boards. That's basically what kind of decided the game in the end. I think they and 18 offensive rebounds or something like that, and you can't win a game like that."
The 6-foot-9 Rackocevic, in particular, dominated on the glass. The sophomore had 14 rebounds to go with his 19 points.
"He works early for position," Batavia coach Jim Nazos said. "When a shot goes up and we're going to hit him, he's already got position."
Batavia (6-15) got 16 points from Micah Coffey, including a 3-pointer that brought the Bulldogs within 50-48 with 1:49 to play. Knox attacked inside for 13 points and Canaan Coffey added 11 for Batavia.
Bulldogs forward Chasen Peez – who has been sidelined with a stress reaction in his back – returned in limited action off the bench.
In other Night of Hoops action, Stevenson defeated Benet, 77-64, behind 39 points from standout Jalen Brunson, while West Aurora handled St. Patrick, 58-27.