Pekin is alone at the top of the Mid-Illini Conference boys basketball standings.
The Dragons (4-4, 3-0) got there by surviving an off-night Saturday, beating visiting East Peoria 46-41 at Hawkins Gym.
“A win is a win in our conference,” said Pekin coach Jeff Walraven. “We’re still a young team. We’re going to find ways to win, and we’re going to find ways to lose.”
Pekin won with defense and clutch rebounding against East Peoria (3-3, 1-2).
The Dragons didn’t win with hot shooting. They were 2-for-12 on triples and 12-for-20 at the free throw line including 6-for-12 during a tense fourth quarter.
Pekin missed the front end of two and one-and-one situations in the game’s final 35.6 seconds, but Jace Link and Patrick Torrey were there to grab critical offensive rebounds.
East Peoria, meanwhile, was 10-for-15 on 3-pointers. Thirty of the Raiders’ 41 points came from behind the arc.
Triples helped East Peoria lead by seven points on four occasions in the first half, and get it back into the game after Pekin moved in front by seven points early in the fourth quarter.
But in the end, the Raiders put only 41 points on the scoreboard because they were 5-for-16 on two-point shots and just 1-for-2 at the free throw line.
“If you can hold a varsity team to 41 points, you’re doing a good job defensively,” Walraven said.
New East Peoria coach Jon Grzanich said the game was indicative of the Raiders’ season. Dry spells offensively and miscues have hurt them.
“The effort is there. We need better execution, more consistency, and to play well for four quarters,” Grzanich said. “We’re making strides. It all comes down to attention to detail.”
Jack Halstead and Link each scored 10 points to lead Pekin past East Peoria. Halstead was 4-for-5 from the field and Link had a game-high eight rebounds. Torrey had six points and five rebounds.
The Dragons had 10 steals, including two each by Link, Christian Hill and Mitchell Cascia.
Anas Abdallah scored a dozen points for East Peoria, going 4-for-6 on triples. Elijah Bennett and Jack Skaggs each had nine points, with Skaggs making all three of his 3-pointers. Abdallah had three steals and Bennett had five assists.
Tom Smith had seven rebounds for the Raiders.
East Peoria led Pekin 19-18 at halftime. The Dragons held the Raiders to eight points in the third quarter and moved in front 32-27. Back-to-back buckets by Link put Pekin ahead for good 26-24 with 2:42 left in the third.
The Raiders were 4-for-5 on triples in the fourth quarter. Their final 3-pointer, by Cole Morton, cut the Dragons’ lead to 42-41 with 1:09 left.
Pekin scored the game’s last four points on free throws and benefitted from a critical East Peoria turnover with about 20 seconds to go.
Those were Morton’s only points of the game. He shot 1-for-6 from the field. The 6-foot-3 senior burned Pekin in the past with his long-range shooting.
“Cole is at the top of everyone’s scouting report now,” Grzanich said. “He needs to find other ways to score.”
The win over East Peoria gave Pekin a 3-1 record in its week-long, four-game home stand. All three wins came against Mid-Illini teams. The Dragons lost to non-conference rival Normal Community.
Steve Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.