STERLING – About the only late-game drama during Saturday night’s Premier League game between Sauk Valley and St. Louis was which Predator would have the honor of putting the home team over the century mark.
Carl Hipp’s 12-foot jumper accomplished that feat, much to the delight of a hungry crowd at Musgrove Fieldhouse, and the Predators went on to a 113-99 victory over the Phoenix.
Sauk Valley (10-6) now owns a two-game lead over the Chicago Muscle (8-
with four games to play for the second and final playoff spot in the Central Division. Both teams trail the Central Illinois Drive (16-1), which was playoff-bound a long time ago.
When the Predators score 100 points, a local fast food restaurant provides a certificate good for one order of curly fries. After coming empty on six straight possessions with 99 points, Sauk Valley finally reached 100 points on a jumper from Hipp with 4 minutes, 35 seconds remaining.
It put the Predators up 101-82 and was Hipp’s only basket, though he did pull down a game-high 14 rebounds. It also brought a big cheer from a crowd that had been chanting for free fries.
“I had no idea, actually, what the score was,” Hipp said. “I was focused on the game. I knew we were up a bit and needed to get more points. That was my first basket of the game, and the crowd went nuts. I was just loving it.”
Sauk Valley led just 57-55 at halftime, then took control with a 32-13 third-quarter surge. Mike Rose hit three 3-pointers in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the quarter and the Predators cruised from there.
Sauk Valley coach Kevin Keathly didn’t implement significant strategy changes at the break, instead focusing on effort. He spoke to his team about upsets posted by underdogs in the NCAA Tournament, and how those teams valued each possession.
“At halftime, I wasn’t happy,” Keathley said. “I said, ‘Look, we’ve got to be mentally tougher. We’ve got to come out, play possession by possession, and be tougher.’ We’ve had a lot of letdowns in the third quarter, but tonight, we played better.
We didn’t allow backdoor cuts, we talked and communicated, and we rebounded much better in the third quarter, which allowed us to run a little bit.”
The top dog for the Predators was Rose, who scored a season-high 41 points on 15-for-20 shooting. He was 7-for-10 from 3-point range. Rose was coming off a 38-point effort, his previous high, in a game against the Muscle last Sunday.
“My coach has been on me saying, ‘Be the player you are and play like you can play,’ “ Rose said. “I think earlier on in the season, I don’t know if I wasn’t confident in myself or what. The last few games he’s tried to make me be the player I can be, and my confidence just went up. I feel more comfortable with everything.”
Keathley has adjusted his offense a bit in the past couple of weeks, running more plays for Rose and former University of Illinois player Jereme Richmond.
“They’re guys that really need to come off screens to score,” Keathley said. “We put those sets in for those players, and they’re really taking advantage of that opportunity.”
Rose was backed by Antwon Harris with 17 points, Herman Favors and Carlton Fay with 15 each and Richmond with 12.
Favors had his usual strong floor game with 12 assists, only one turnover and four steals.
John Oden topped St. Louis with 23 points and eight rebounds. Dawyne Polk and Corey Hill each added 14 points.