Morton played tough defense and had just enough offense Saturday night and stayed on top of the Mid-Illini Conference boys basketball standings.
The Potters never trailed en route to a 41-29 victory over host Pekin at Hawkins Gym.

Morton (18-8, 10-1) stayed a game in front of second-place Washington in the Mid-Illini standings. Pekin (11-12, 7-4) had a four-game winning streak snapped and dropped into a third-place tie with Metamora in the conference.
Besides scoring only 29 points against Morton, the Dragons shot just 29 percent from the field (11-for-38).

"Morton plays good defense and rebounds well on the defensive end," said Pekin coach Jeff Walraven. "You don't get many open looks on shots against them so when you get them, you'd better make them. We didn't do that enough."

The Potters had 19 defensive rebounds against Pekin. The Dragons had only eight offensive boards.

Morton coach Matt Franks said defense is a major focus for the Potters, "and we made the plays we needed to defensively against Pekin."
Walraven also was happy with his team's defensive effort Saturday.

"I'll take it," he said. "We held a good team to 41 points."
Franks said he wasn't surprised the game was a grind-it-out, defensive battle.

"Pekin has been playing well of late and they play a very disciplined style," he said.

"We knew going into the game that we needed to treat every possession like gold."

Morton didn't get to the free throw line until 5:45 remained in the game. Perhaps that was a good thing for the Potters. They left the door open for Pekin in the fourth quarter by going 9-for-17 on foul shots.

"It seems we're either great on free throws, or we struggle," Franks said. "We're consistently inconsistent."

Down 27-16 entering the final quarter, Pekin scored the first six points to cut Morton's lead to 27-22 and later had a four-point play by Max Jones, but the Dragons never came closer than five points.

Back-to-back turnovers early in the quarter hurt Pekin.

"Those turnovers changed the momentum," Walraven said.

Franks said his team weathered the storm after Pekin's brief run, "and got relaxed and settled in. This win was a great step for us."

Barik Olden led Morton with 12 points and seven rebounds. Zach Bryne had 11 points and three assists, Jarrett Crider had eight points and Noah Steffen had seven.

The Potters shot 44 percent from the floor (14-for-32).
Jack Halstead had eight points, four rebounds and three assists for Pekin. He was 4-for-6 from the floor.

Jones (seven points) and Brady Grashoff (four rebounds) also made contributions for the Dragons.

Next for Pekin is a game Friday night at Washington. The Dragons will host Metamora the following night.

"We can't dwell on the (loss to Morton)," Walraven said. "We have a tough weekend ahead."

Morton will have back-to-back home games this coming weekend at the Potterdome against Mid-Illini opponents East Peoria and Canton.

The East Peoria game will be Gameball Run Night and the Canton game will be Senior Night honoring the Potters' three seniors: Tucker Rugaard, Bryne and Steffen.

Steve Stein can be reached at stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.