PEORIA — First-half struggles created an uphill battle for the Rock Island boys basketball team in Wednesday night’s Class 3A Bradley University Sectional semifinal at Renaissance Coliseum.
Missed 3-pointers and quick shots created an early hole for the eighth-ranked Rocks, who fell 75-57 to a Peoria Manual team that had a strong encore to handing Galesburg its only home loss by 16 points last Friday.
The Rams (18-10) advance to face top-ranked Peoria Notre Dame (30-1) in Friday’s sectional title game.
Rocky (23-9) hit just one of its 11 triples in the first half of Wednesday’s loss as Manual went up 7-0 to start and 20-9 after one quarter.
The Rocks played much better after the break, but a 16-point halftime deficit proved to be too large against a team that won a sectional title in the same building a year ago on the way to finishing fourth at state. The Rams had 54 points in the paint alone in the win.
“We didn’t respond and play well under pressure early,” said Rock Island coach Thom Sigel. “We just didn’t respond well from the get-go and didn’t execute.”
The Rams shared the ball effectively with the extra passes, tallying 17 assists as a team and shooting 30-of-50 from the field for a whopping 60%.
Rocky’s quick shots also led to little chance for an offensive rebound early on. The Rams finished with a 36-24 advantage on the glass as standout guard Rolando Brown led the way with 12 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. The 6-foot-6 Idius Roberton had 14 points with eight rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting inside.
Rocky cut the deficit to 38-30 with 4:11 left in the third quarter, but the Rams had the answer and rebuilt their lead to 46-30.
Rocky played better in the second half and hit 4-of-10 3s, but Manual always had an answer, outscoring the Rocks 42-41 after the break.
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The Rocks finished 19-of-51 (37%) from the field as senior Taurean Holtam scored a game-high 16 points, all in the second half, and finished with 10 rebounds and two blocks. Jordan Rice found his stroke in the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points.
Amarion Nimmers added 10 points and Malachi Key (7-10 free throws) added 11 points off the bench.
Rocky had just five assists to eight turnovers in the game.
“We just needed to move the ball and cut and screen,” Sigel said. “Give our guys credit for battling to get it back to eight, but they’re a really good team, obviously. … They jumped on us early and took our run and responded.”
Manual led by 15 after three quarters. Myriece Byrd (11 points, five assists) and Joshua Ivory (13 points, 5-5 FGs) were also productive for the Rams.
“They’re playing awfully well,” Sigel said.
Sigel said the team needed to do more early on to get open shots, but hopefully the team can learn from it.
“Hopefully our young guys want to get back here and be a little more ready than we were this year,” Sigel said.
Rocky’s five seniors, Holtam, Key, Solomon Gustafson, Alijah Walker-Lee and Andrew McDuffy took the floor down the stretch to close the game.
“That was nice,” Sigel said. “To be able to get them out there on the court at the end was something we wanted to do.”
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