NORMAL — It was nearly impossible for Ben Peacock and Lexington High School’s basketball team to feel like losers on Monday night.
Admittedly, the Minutemen were no match for No. 1-ranked Yorkville Christian. Duke rookie Jaden Schutt opened the Class 1A Illinois State super section with a dunk and a 3-pointer and the Mustangs were on course for a 71-33 win at Redbird Arena.
Lexington, fresh off winning their first section title since 1999, was cheered on by a large crowd who pretty much knew it was over early and really didn’t care about the final score.
“When we raced here in the opening warm-ups and everyone was there cheering, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” said Peacock, a guard. senior. “The community was so supportive of us. Even when we were losing a lot of points, they cheered us on. Loved every second of having us on this court. We did something no one in Lexington has done in a long, long time. It was awesome.
Lexington, which finished 24-13 after winning its first section since 1999, trailed Carter Coffman’s eight points. Alec Thomas added seven points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m so proud of our guys. It’s only my second year, but they believed in me,” Lexington head coach Doug Yoder said. “If you had said Lexington was in the Elite Eight, I don’t think there would be many teams who would have said that.”
Here are four takeaways from Monday’s game as Yorkville Christian advanced to a 10 a.m. semifinal game against Steeleville at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
Duke rookie dominates
Schutt, a 6-foot-6 guard, had 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while playing just three quarters. Both coaches rested their starters in the fourth quarter with Yorkville Christian leading 69-25 and a running clock in the final eight minutes.
Thomas, a junior forward, will one day have something to tell his grandkids about defending a Duke rookie.
“Honestly, it was great. I felt like I didn’t do that badly, to be honest,” Thomas said. “I had to work around those screens. Honestly, it’s a great feeling to play here despite the loss. It’s been an amazing season.”
Three other Yorkville Christian starters finished in double digits as KJ Vasser and Brayden Long scored 13 points apiece and Tyler Burrows added 11.
“We were going to try to slow them down, but when you’ve got probably four All-Staters on this team, it’s kind of tough,” Yoder said. “We’ve been playing well lately. We’ve tried the man (defense). Obviously it didn’t work out, but if we had stayed in the area I think they would have shot us.”
Yorkville Christian made 13 3-pointers on 10 from inside the arc.
“They’re the state champions,” Yoder said. “If we lose to the state champions, it’s a good season.”
Most of Lexington’s players were part of the Ridgeview-Lexington football co-op which advanced to the Class 1A semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Lena-Winslow in the semi-finals.
Yoder said the basketball team didn’t have a full practice before their first game. But the momentum built during the football didn’t stop.
“We had a wild ride in football and it spilled over into basketball. We had some bumpy things along the way,” Peacock said. “We suffered a couple of losses and didn’t finish as well as we hoped in the County (McLean) tournament. It helped prepare us for some tough playoff games. It’s been a crazy season, with a lot of ups and downs, but we made the most of it in the end.”
Home of heroes
After winning the Roanoke-Benson Regional beating Heyworth and then the Watseka Sectional against Decatur St. Teresa, the Minutemen returned home in style.
“I’ve come here and never had a fire truck escort. We’ve had two fire truck escorts, a regional championship and a section championship. Unbelievable,” Yoder said. “People were lining up in the streets. I said what is this? They’re like, this is Lexington basketball. Our community is amazing. Meals, parents, this is just amazing. You saw the crowd tonight. We far outnumbered them.”
Thomas thinks the scene may repeat itself in 2023.
“It’s the start of a new era. We have a lot of great classes behind us who will do the same,” he said. “It struck me at the start of the playoffs how much support we had and the great community that supported us.”
The state tournament returns to Champaign for the first time since 1995. The Class 1A and 2A semifinals are on Thursday, with the Class 3A and 4A semifinals on Friday. The four league games will be played on Saturday.
“We had scoresheets at the start of the year, and each player told a man his goal was to play for a state championship and win a state championship,” the coach- leader of Yorkville Christian, Aaron Sovern. “We remind them of that every day. It’s a goal and it’s not easy.”
The Mustangs’ five playoff wins have come easy by an average margin of nearly 40 points.
“We knew what they (Lexington) were trying to execute and executed it like crazy in practice,” Sovern said. “The good thing is that we were under so much pressure that they couldn’t do many sets. They did good things there and are a good team, but our guys managed to block some things.”
Photos: Yorkville Christian ends Lexington’s dream season in Class 1A
Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_benson