BLOOMINGTON — When the unbeaten Central Illinois Drive missed 17 of their first 18 shots Sunday to fall behind the Sauk Valley Predators, 25-3, it didn’t occur to them that it might not be their day.
“We knew that at some point in the game we were going to collect ourselves, get together and make a run,” said Drive forward Anthony Slack, whose team dazzled 2,112 home fans with a thrilling 119-107 overtime triumph.
The Drive survived a 37-point effort by Sauk Valley’s Carlton Fay to improve to 15-0 and clinch the Central Division championship of the Premier Basketball League.
“They gave every ounce of energy and I couldn’t be more proud of those guys,” said Drive coach A.J. Guyton, whose team trailed by as much as 30-7.
The Drive were adrift in a swamp of 70-51 frustration in the third quarter when Josh Edmonds sank back-to-back 3-pointers as part of a 15-point night.
“Josh Edmonds is my MVP,” Guyton said. “He came off the bench in the second half after not playing in the first half. He hit three 3s. He got everybody else going.”
Among those taking flight was Nathan Fuqua, who scored a season-high 24 points. He was 8 of 16 from the field and 7 of 7 at the line while completing three three-point plays.
“Fighting back from that 20-point deficit and going into overtime with a tie game, we felt all the momentum,” said Fuqua, whose team dodged a bullet when Sauk Valley’s Quinn Humphrey only made one of two free throws with 8.8 seconds left in regulation to leave the game tied at 103.
The Drive’s Daniel Ruffin, back after missing eight games with a foot injury, couldn’t connect on an off-balance 20-footer at the buzzer.
The Drive scored the first eight points of overtime as Todd Peterson’s 3-pointer preceded Fuqua’s 18-foot jumper and 3-pointer.
Herman Favors, who finished with 22 points, pulled Sauk Valley within 111-105 with 2:23 left, but the Drive made another 8-0 run.
“Right now Central Illinois is just a better basketball team,” said Sauk Valley coach Kevin Keathley, whose squad fell to 7-6. “We are not as mentally tough as they are.”
The Drive were physically tough, too, as Slack muscled his way to 17 points and 13 rebounds while Perry Petty injected 18 points, nine boards and nine assists.
Ex-Illinois player Jereme Richmond, in his second game with Sauk Valley, had 14 points and nine rebounds, but the 19-year-old missed 6 of 10 shots and committed five of his team’s 24 turnovers.
“I think today they kind of exposed some of my weaknesses,” said the 6-foot-7 Richmond, who was guarded by the 6-2 Fuqua. “I need to get stronger. It’s a man’s game out there.”
The Drive, who will give Sauk Valley a rematch at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Sterling, also got 16 points from Rodney Edgerson and 11 from Peterson.
“That’s the way you want games to be,” Guyton said. “You want to earn them sometimes. They made us earn every penny of it.”
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