RANTOUL — One team kept its composure and played with poise late in the fourth quarter. The other let its emotions get the best of them.
Mahomet-Seymour knocked down 14 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter and came-from-behind to defeat Rantoul 61-55 in the first round of the Class 3A Rantoul Regional on Monday.
The Bulldogs saw their season come to an end a night later in a 65-56 loss to Champaign Central.
The Bulldogs trailed by nine points early in the first quarter agaisnt Rantoul but fought all the way back and had a 36-29 lead midway through the third quarter.
But it was nip-and-tuck throughout the final eight minutes. Rantoul's Angelo Brown tipped in a layup to give Rantoul a 55-54 lead with less than a minute to go.
Following a timeout by M-S coach Ryan Bosch, junior Cole Lener had a strong take to the cup and drew a foul. Rantoul's Hayden Cargo slammed the ball down in frustration and earned a technical foul.
With the Rantoul crowd roaring, Lener calmly stepped to the charity stripe and knocked down both free throws.
Grant Coleman followed by swishing both of the technical free throws to give M-S a 58-55 lead with 42.8 seconds.
Rantoul wouldn't make another shot, and M-S' season stayed alive for one more day.
"I'm super proud of them and super happy for them," Bosch said. "I told them in the locker room that if they had shot free throws like that in a few more games, our record would be pretty impressive.
"Just so happy for them. It was a tough environment, super loud. They had to rely on each other for long stretches. Hat-tip to Rantoul, they brought it tonight. They were tough tonight, and they were so tough to guard and gave us a lot of fits."
M-S was playing without senior point guard Connor Kamphaus who badly injured his left ankle in the win over Mattoon last Friday. Kamphaus was in a boot and could only helplessly watch as Rantoul's stifling 1-2-2 full-court trapping zone gave M-S fits.
The Eagles stormed out to a 17-8 lead in the first quarter after Cargo nailed a deep corner trey and Keyon Button ripped the ball away from M-S' Dawson Finch and converted a layup.
But Jordan Veldman and Coleman drained back-to-back treys to bring M-S back within three at 19-16 at the end of the frame.
Rantoul held a 26-25 lead at the half.
"I thought they had to get some jitters out to start the game," Bosch said. "Unfortunately, you still feel like you're young now at this point of the season. It starts all over again. You have to work through some stuff and I thought they grew up a lot tonight."
Rantoul freshman Jimmy Nixon scored six points in the opening quarter, but the Bulldogs flipped the script on the Eagles in the second half and brought the pressure defense.
"Braden Finch was really good," Bosch said. "I thought Kobe Essien, coming in and rebounding really helped us, too. (Nixon) is hard to guard. He's tough, and he's really giving him something extra, and he locked down on him and gave us a lot of momentum."
Finch shut down Nixon, allowing just two second-half points and forced a couple huge turnovers to help M-S start the second half on an 11-3 run.
"Really we were just trying to speed him up," Finch said. "We saw that he got injured a little bit with his ankle, so we were trying to speed him up and turn him over."
Coleman glided to the rim for a layup and drained a deep right-wing triple to give M-S a 36-29 lead, but Rantoul's 6-foot-5 senior Latavius Winston really bullied the Bulldogs in the second half.
Winston scored five of his 11 points in the third quarter, and Mahomet-Seymour held a slim 39-37 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Essien was barreled over by Winston resulting in Rantoul's big man picking up his fourth foul.
Eagles' junior Kamryn Rome put his team on his back and scored six of Rantoul's first eight points in the fourth quarter, but Coleman matched him shot for shot.
Finch found Coleman on a beautiful give-and-go, and on the ensuing possession, Coleman swiped a steal and converted an old-fashioned three-point play, drawing the M-S crowd to its feet.
Rantoul trailed 49-43 with 5 minutes, 12 seconds left, but the Eagles had one final run in them. Cargo's deep trey and Winston's layup gave Rantoul a 51-49 lead.
Winston tried to block Finch's three-point attempt, but he was whistled for his fifth foul.
"I thought that was a big momentum shift down there," Bosch said. "He's tough to stop down there around the basket, and he was giving us fits on the glass. So, that definitely helps shift the momentum in our favor. They had to go small and that changed the way we have to guard them a little bit as well."
Rantoul head coach Brett Frerichs was beside himself after his senior star was forced to sit out. The Rantoul student section stomped and screamed, but Finch calmly knocked down all three free throws.
"I just took a deep breath and acted like it was the end of practice when we shoot free throws," Finch said. "I was just excited. I knew that we had taken control of the game right there."
It was the third year in a row that the Bulldogs have ended Rantoul's season. The Eagles were led by Rome's 14 points. Winston chipped in 11 and Cargo had 10.
Coleman was fantastic, finishing with a game-high 29 points.
Lener added 10 points, while Essien and Finch each had seven.
Veldman finished with six points.
"This was huge," Finch said. "They started knocking down a bunch of big shots, and we didn't get nervous, we stayed cool."
Champaign Central 65, M-S 56. The Bulldogs saw their season come to a close in the Class 3A Regional semifinals on Tuesday as Central outscored M-S 22-14 in the fourth quarter. M-S bravely battled all game long without Kamphaus.
Coleman led the way yet again with 23 points.
Essien was great, pouring in 13 points and Veldman scored 12 in his final high school game. Seniors Dawson Finch and Turner both had two points.
M-S finished 12-16.
"The guys gave us all they had," Bosch tweeted. "So proud of the effort tonight!"
M-S 69, Mattoon 53. In the final game of the regular season, Coleman went off for 33 points as the Bulldogs outscored Mattoon by 13 points in the second half to pull away.
Coleman shot 13-for-19 from the field, ripped down seven rebounds and added five steals. Lucas Turner poured in 13 points.
Lener and Veldman each had six points, and Lener picked up five boards, three dimes and three steals.