DIXON – AJ Sharp’s initial win as Sauk Valley Community College men’s basketball coach wasn’t exactly textbook, but he’ll take it.
The Skyhawks frittered away most of a sizable lead in the last few minutes, and needed a late defensive stand to preserve a 78-76 victory against Prairie State on Friday night in a Sauk Valley Classic matchup.
“We’re young, we’re young, we’re young and we’re going to keep preaching it, but eventually we’ve got to grow up and finish that game,” the 22-year-old Sharp said. “It’s the second game of the year, and we needed that win. Our guys found a way to get it.”
Sauk Valley (1-1) was clicking on all cylinders for a good chunk of the second half to bust open what had been a 32-32 halftime tie. The Skyhawks’ largest lead was 10 points (52-42) after Anthony Martinez dropped in a pair of free throws with 11 minutes, 56 seconds to play.
Sauk led by nine points (72-63) after the last of Riley Mehrens’ nine 3-point baskets with 3 minutes to play, and the lead was still at six (78-72) after a layup from Trevon Adams with 35 seconds to go.
Prairie State (0-1) countered
with a basket from Chris
Winters at the 30-second mark.
Then, after a turnover, a bucket from Shaddie Daifallah with 19.4 seconds to go sliced the margin to 78-76 with 19.4 seconds to go.
The last of the Skyhawks’ 19 turnovers, a cross-court pass that was intercepted by Prairie State’s Winters with 9 seconds to go, gave the Pioneers a chance to tie or go ahead.
Robert Hurd missed a contested layup with 6 seconds to go, but the rebound went off a Skyhawk.
After a timeout, the ball was inbounded to Prairie State’s Dwayne McNutt in the corner, and he was immediately double-teamed. Under intense pressure, McNutt’s sneaker slid out-of-bounds, giving the Skyhawks a crucial turnover with 1.2 seconds on the clock.
Sauk’s Cameron Graves went deep with an inbounds pass, it was gathered in by teammate Montel Brown, and he dribbled out the remaining time. The Skyhawks prevailed despite committing 19 turnovers to their opponents’ 11, and hitting just 5 of 11 free throws.
“We have all the talent in the world,” Mehrens said. “We’ve just got to put it together, be disciplined and not turn the ball over all the time.”
Mehrens had the hot hand all night in leading the Skyhawks with 27 points. He was 9-for-16 overall, and drained 9 of 13 attempts from 3-point range.
“My wrist was actually feeling kind of iffy in walk-throughs today, but it turned out all right,” Mehrens said.
“Riley is one of those kids if he’s open at all, he’s going to make it,” Sharp said. “Every time he shoots it, I think it’s in. The more he shoots it, the better I think we are.”
Ryan Jackson had 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds for the Skyhawks, and Martinez chipped in 10 points and six boards.
For Prairie State, McNutt poured in 27 points on 12-for-26 shooting, Winters had 12 points and eight boards, and Hurd added 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Sauk Valley Classic
Sauk Valley 78, Prairie State 76
Star of the game: Riley Mehrens (SV), 27 points, 6 assists
Key performers: Dwayne McNutt (PS), 27 points, , 5 rebounds, 5 assists; Ryan Jackson (SV), 13 points, 9 rebounds
Up next: Olive Harvey at Sauk Valley, 7:30 p.m. Saturday