It isn't a cliché to say the Pekin-East Peoria boys basketball game Friday night was a tale of two halves.
Down by 16 points midway through the second quarter, visiting Pekin staged a furious comeback and won 58-48 in Allison Gym in a Mid-Illini Conference game.
"What did I say to our guys? I said everything a coach whose team is down by 16 points in the second quarter is supposed to say," said Pekin coach Jeff Walraven. "We had to get stops one at a time, score baskets one at a time, and play harder and better. I also reminded the guys that's it's a long game."
East Peoria's statistics tell the story of the game.
The Raiders (7-8, 3-4) led 33-23 at halftime. They shot 62 percent from the field (13-for-21) in the first two quarters but just 26 percent (5-for-19) in the second half.
After going 7-for-9 on three-pointers in the first half, East Peoria was 2-for-9 from behind the arc after halftime. The Raiders were 6-for-6 on triples in the first quarter as they took a 22-10 lead.
Pekin (7-10, 4-2) trailed 28-12 before climbing within 30-23 late in the second quarter, but a buzzer-beating triple by East Peoria's Jack Staggs from near halfcourt gave the Raiders a double-digit lead once again.
Then came the third quarter. The Dragons outscored East Peoria 18-2 and moved in front 41-35, far exceeding their expectations.
"We wanted to keep chipping away at East Peoria's lead in the third quarter. Our goal was to get within five points," Walraven said.
East Peoria missed all eight of its shots from the field in the third quarter. The Raiders finally scored when Jahlin Parker made two free throws with 36.1 seconds left.
Meanwhile, it was Pekin with a barrage of three-pointers in the third quarter. Adam Cash and Max Jones each had two of them.
Parker made East Peoria's first basket of the second half when he hit a baseline triple with 7:20 left in the game.
But Cash responded with a three-pointer and when the Dragons' Justin Taphorn sank two free throws with 2:05 to go, Pekin led 53-40, its biggest lead of the game. From down 16 to up 13, that was a 29-point swing for Pekin.
Cash led Pekin with 19 points. He was 7-for-12 from the field including 5-for-8 on triples. Jones was 4-for-5 from the field, 3-for-4 on three-pointers, and he scored 13 points.
Patrick Torrey (12 points, eight rebounds, five offensive) and Brady Grashoff (10 points, 5-for-6 from the field, five rebounds) also played big roles in Pekin's comeback.
Skaggs led East Peoria with 15 points. He took eight shots, all of them triples, and made five. He was 3-for-3 in the first quarter.
Parker (14 points, 5-for-9 from the field), Elijah Bennett (six points), Rhyian Parker (six points) and Parker Bradford (five rebounds) also had solid games for East Peoria.
"We had great ball movement in the first half, made shots, and got out in transition," said East Peoria coach Jon Grzanich. "We're at our best when we can rebound, get out and run."
So what happened to the Raiders in the second half?
"They (Pekin) went into a zone defense, identified our shooters, and forced other guys to step up. That didn't happen," Grzanich said. "Our kids are disappointed to have a home loss like this, but they'll bounce back."
The disappointment was evident on the court as the Raiders saw the game slip away from them. Walraven noticed.
"Sometimes high school players equate success only with offense," he said. "But there are a lot of ways to help your team. If you play solid defense, that can lead to offense."
Even though his team won, Walraven came away impressed with the Raiders, who have been one of the area's big surprises in boys basketball.
"They're very athletic, they can shoot .. they have all the parts to be a solid team," Walraven said. "They hurt us in the first half (Friday) with five offensive rebounds, and we lost No. 3 (Skaggs) a few times. Plus, we didn't do a good job with our angles and closing out during their drives to the basket."
GAME NOTES: Pekin shot 46 percent from the field (18-for-39) including 9-for-17 on triples. East Peoria shot 45 percent (18-for-40) from the field including 9-for-18 on triples. ... The Dragons had a big edge at the free throw line. They were 13-for-17 to the Raiders' 3-for-7. ... When East Peoria led 28-12, it was the second time the Raiders were ahead by 16 points. They also were in front 26-10. ... East Peoria's Jahlin Parker missed two free throws with 1:32 to go in the third quarter before making a pair with 36.1 seconds left and breaking the Raiders' second-half scoring drought. ... Pekin's Justin Taphorn returned to action after missing three games with an ankle injury suffered Dec. 28 vs. Freeport in the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament. Taphorn's lone two points Friday night were a pair of free throws with 2:05 to go in the game. ... East Peoria beat Pekin 56-30 in the sophomore game. ...Pekin's home game Saturday night against Peoria Richwoods was postponed because of the snowstorm. No makeup date has been set. East Peoria was off Saturday night.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.