EUREKA — The Eureka College men have been in enough of these games by now to understand how this works.
When you're in the same gym as Greenville, things can spiral out of control in a hurry. It takes just the right combination of poise, persistence and endurance to withstand all the quirks of the Panthers' high-octane, high-pressure system.
On an unforgettable, record-breaking Monday night at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center, the Red Devils cracked the code and seized a 161-153 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference victory over the three-time defending conference champs.
"I just read a quote that said, 'At this time of year, teams either come together or fall apart, and I felt like that's what this team did tonight," Eureka College coach Chip Wilde said. "They came together.
"When I called their number, they were ready to play. They didn't get discouraged. They stayed the course and prevailed."
Along the way, Eureka set two new school records. The Red Devils' 161-point performance set a new single-game team scoring record, which was previously set in a 149-37 win over Barat on Nov. 29, 1989.
And Dakota Bennington's (Peoria, Ill./Peoria Christian) 51 points established a new single-game individual scoring record, supplanting Shea Feehan's 49-point effort against Knox on Nov. 26, 2017.
Bennington, a 6-foot-3 junior, led the way in a gaudy box score for the Red Devils. He shot 20-for-29 from the field, netting 10 of 14 free throws, gathering eight boards and distributing seven assists.
With the win, EC improved to 9-13 on the season and 8-8 in the SLIAC while Greenville fell to 17-5 and 13-3. But the night wasn't really about records.
After the game, Bennington was delighted to hear his name was going on a top line in the record book, but he said it wouldn't have mattered if EC came out on the losing end.
"That's a staple win," he said. "Toward the end of the season, we're kind of fighting with everything we got. That's what we needed. We came out and played a really good game, beat a really good team."
Senior Alex Wiegand (Washington, Ill./Washington) was a perfect 16 of 16 from the field and finished with a career-high 36 points, seven rebounds and four assists. He was two buckets away from recording the most makes in a game in Division III history.
Senior Hank Thomas (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) racked up 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting and dished out 14 assists, junior Jordan Dehm (Metamora, Ill./Metamora) tallied 18 points while going 4-for-6 from the field and 8-for-8 from the line and collecting a game-high 12 rebounds, and junior Austin Juergens (Pekin, Ill./Pekin added seven points and six assists.
The Red Devils also got a huge lift from a handful of reserves who don't always prominently feature in the team's rotation. But with Greenville's unceasing pressure and unconventional substitution patterns, EC needed every second from them.
Koby White (Brimfield, Ill./Brimfield), Drew Barth (Minonk, Ill./Fieldcrest), Jalen Hosea (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods), Kyle Henderson (Henry, Ill./Henry-Seanchwine/Elgin) and Donald Hardaway, Jr. (Lansing, Ill./Cimarron Memorial/Daley) combined for 21 points off the bench. White led the way, notching 10 points and hitting two crucial 3-pointers down the stretch in 10 1/2 quality minutes. Barth and Henderson had four points apiece.
The Red Devils shot 59-for-84 from the field on the night – 70.2 percent. They only committed 24 turnovers, which is almost 11 fewer than the Panthers force per night. And they limited Greenville to 20 offensive rebounds, which, in turn, limited the Panthers' scoring opportunities.
Eric Williams scored a team-high 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting for Greenville in less than 19 minutes. Johari Dix and Marvin Bateman followed with 21 apiece and four other Panthers reached double figures as well.
It took about 12 minutes of play for Eureka to adjust to the frantic pace and strange rhythm of the game. Trailing 51-39 with eight minutes to play in the first half, the Red Devils broke press after press and chipped their way to within four points at the break. Dehm's triple off a feed by Thomas with 15 seconds remaining was the last basket in a half that ended with Greenville leading 75-71.
However, in the second half, the Panthers got out fast and extended the lead to 17 with 16:22 remaining.
That's the most obvious time when the Red Devils could have faded, but instead, they dug in and focused on executing the game plan: Avoid turnovers as much as possible, win the battle on the boards and take advantage of high-percentage shots.
Ninety-six of EC's 161 points were scored in the paint.
"With that kind of game, you can go down 20, and it's like five points," Bennington said. "You never feel like you're going to win, you never feel like you're going to lose."
As the Red Devils sprinted, dished and dunked their way back into the game, the intensity inside the arena rose considerably. By the time a Wiegand flush made it a one-point game at 121-120 with nine minutes remaining, it had grown into a frenzy.
A Bennington layup with 7:27 left made it 124-123 and gave EC its first lead of the second half. Less than a minute later, a Barth give-and-go to the basket with Bennington extended it to four.
The Panthers tied it twice after that, but they never led again.
The closest they came was when Dix hit a couple of free throws to make it 150-148 with less than two minutes remaining. But a pair of feeds from Thomas to Wiegand for an easy two gave the Red Devils the slightest bit of breathing room. The four-year starter finished with a one-handed jam on one and softly laid in the other.
Bennington and Thomas put away the game at the line from there.
"Wiegs' one-handed dunk," Bennington said. "I knew then, it was going to be hard to beat us after that."