EL PASO - Jordan Krone said the goal is simply "get better every game." Achieving it just got tougher.
Fieldcrest High School's unbeaten basketball team turned in a near-flawless first half Friday night, building a 35-17 lead on the way to a 74-62 victory over Deer Creek-Mackinaw in the title game of the final Midstate Conference Tournament.
The top-seeded Knights (21-0) bolted to a 20-7 first-quarter lead on the strength of 4 of 6 shooting from 3-point range. They also did not commit a turnover in the period and had only two in the first half.
"We came out on fire. We pinned down on the defense, and that set the tone for the rest of the game," said Krone, a sophomore guard who scored a team-high 19 points.
Fieldcrest coach Matt Winkler called it "the best half we've played all year." Dee-Mack coach Mitch Holmgren believed it.
"Buzzsaw," Holmgren said. "That's what the first quarter was. They came out with all cylinders firing. Our kids were ready to go, too, but they came out and knocked down some big shots on us. Some of it was pretty good defense, and they still just knocked them down."
The result was a far easier win than in the previous meeting between the teams. Fieldcrest needed a buzzer-beating layup by Krone to escape, 54-53, at Mackinaw Jan. 6.
Junior Jake Martin added 18 points for Fieldcrest and senior forward Jarrod Cook had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Junior center Logan Park contributed nine points, all in the second half, and Kiel Melvin and Darin Meierhofer had eight as the Knights survived a Chiefs' comeback in the fourth quarter.
Second-seeded Dee-Mack cut a 56-35 deficit to 71-62 with 1:20 left, but could not get closer. Fieldcrest hung on despite going 15 of 25 from the free-throw line in the final period.
"We knew at halftime they weren't going to quit," Martin said. "We just had to sustain their runs and fight back and get the lead back up.
"(Being undefeated) is a blast. We just want to play hard every night. We know people are going to be hunting for us. We just play hard and so far we've played well enough to keep it going."
Winkler said his team's "defense fed the offense" in the early surge.
"We really came out pumped," he said. "We've talked all year long about playing four quarters. To see us come out with that emotion and that fire against a great team - we just were clicking.
"We stopped them defensively and offensively our shot selection was very good."
Dan Abbott scored 20 points and Benny Frietsch added 16 for Dee-Mack, which was 3 of 9 from the field and had three turnovers in the pivotal first quarter.
The Midstate, which began in 1948, will disband after this season and become part of the Heart of Illinois Conference.
As a result, Winkler said, "This one is very special."
Tremont 87, Lexington 77
Tremont (18-5) had all five starters scored in double figures while downing Lexington (11-9) in the third-place game.
Jim Kuban scored 22 points and was followed by Jake Szetela with 20, Jeremy Pflederer with 17, and Michael Wiemer and Tyler Martin with 14 each.
The Turks used a 21-9 run in the second quarter to take a 39-29 halftime lead.
Alex Tanney scored 29 points to pace Lexington, while Eric Schuler added 17 and Josh Thomas 10.
Heyworth 41, Ridgeview 35
Nick Law's 20 points powered Heyworth (14-10) past Ridgeview (8-14) for the consolation championship.
The Hornets took control in the first quarter, opening an 18-10 lead.
Ryan Campbell added seven points for Heyworth.
Ridgeview, which trailed 30-25 after three quarters, was led by Bradley Ghere's eight points. Josh Petersen and Tyler Harper added seven each.