PEKIN, Ill. — There was no question about it, the Moline Maroons knew they had to find a way to slow down Rock Island's big three if they wanted to win Tuesday's Class 4A Pekin sectional semifinal.
The Maroons did exactly that, holding Randy Tucker, JaMir Price and Ben Ellis to 29 points in a 55-43 Maroons' win that sends Moline (23-7) into Friday's title game against Belleville East, a 66-33 winner over Quincy.
"We know Randy, JaMir and Ben really hurt us in both of the games we played them in the regular season," Moline coach Sean Taylor said. "We had to limit them. I thought we did a great job of getting in Randy's face and making it tough for him to shoot."
Being aggressive on defense was the key as Moline switched up its 1-2-2 defense just a little in the game.
"We had to make sure we got out on them and stopped their penetration," Moline junior Deonte Billups said. "We just had to play our defense."
Added junior Brody Harding, "Randy is one of the best players around, probably one of the best in the state. You just cannot give him an open shot."
Rock Island coach Thom Sigel pointed to his team's offensive execution as a big problem. The worst of that came in the third quarter when Moline turned a 23-20 halftime lead into a 38-23 edge after three quarters. Rock Island missed all eight of its shots and scored on just three free throws.
"We missed a couple of good looks and settled for 3s in the third," Sigel said. "We talked before this game that we had to attack them and we didn't do that. We played on our heels a lot of the night and the frustrating thing is that came after we had played so well last week.
"One thing is, this doesn't take anything away from this season. We were not supposed to be playing in this game and that is something the guys should take away from this. That, and the fact that our guys have always won with class and lost with class."
It also hurt the Rocks that Price and Tucker spent a large part of the game on the bench. Both were in foul trouble all game and fouled out within seconds of each other with seven minutes left in the game.
"Randy and I are the leading scorers and we have to be on the court," Price said. "Some of the fouls against us were pretty cheap and that hurt. In that second half, we just didn't shoot it well and we didn't move the ball well.
"This one will always sting, but as a team we worked together, we always had each other's backs and we had a lot of fun together."
Billups finished with 19 points, six rebounds and four blocks. However, several Maroons made their share of big plays. Harding finished with 11 points, including two 3s in the first half; Jeff McInnis had 11 points and four assists; and Ben Monroe finished with eight points and five rebounds. Monroe had six of those points and four rebounds in the first quarter.
"Rock Island came out playing great in that first quarter and we could have been down by six or eight points," Taylor said. "Ben kind of saved us early. He came up huge."
Added Monroe, "I think it is just this gym. I was the leading rebounder during the tournament here and now this. Coach keeps telling me to go get offensive rebounds, it worked."
Ellis led Rock Island with 13 points and seven rebounds, and Price finished with 11. Tucker was held to six.