Eureka Pushes Through, Outguns Grinnell, 122-115

Photo courtesy of Summer Inselmann.
Photo courtesy of Summer Inselmann.

EUREKA — For the third time in the past two years, the Eureka men's basketball team beat The System.

The Red Devils pushed through, outgunned and outlasted Grinnell 122-115 on a rowdy Wednesday evening at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena.

The game was in question late, but with the game tied at 115-115, Jaedon Banks (Peoria, Ill./Peoria Heights) found a cutting Austin Juergens (Pekin, Ill./Pekin), who took to the basket for a bucket and the foul with 32.5 left on the clock.

"I knew I had to make an and-one free throw because I about cost us a SLIAC championship last year," Juergens said. "I told myself 'no more missed pivotal free throws.'"

Juergens swished it and Grinnell's 3-point rebuttal on the other end clanked off the rim. Banks came down with the rebound and drew a foul.

He missed the first free throw but put away the second, giving the Red Devils a four-point lead with 11.3 left.

The 6-foot-9 junior wasn't done yet, and neither was EC. Banks blocked Grinnell's 3-point attempt, setting up one final thrilling sequence.

Jalen Hosea (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) retrieved the board, went to the line for a pair of free throws, and after sinking his first foul shot, the sophomore grabbed his own rebound on the second and finished the night off with a left-handed reverse layup right in front of Eureka's ecstatic student section.

It ended as Eureka's third win over Grinnell in four tries, and the first since 1979. The Red Devils twice took down St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Greenville — which uses The System originally founded by Grinnell —but the Pioneers prevailed over EC 131-108 in last year's matchup.

"It was a great team effort, and I couldn't be more proud of our guys," Juergens said. "We had a sour taste in our mouth about the last time we played them, so we wanted to respond well and I think we did great."

With the win, the Red Devils improved to 3-1 on the season. Juergens, a senior, finished with a game-high and tied for a career high 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting from the floor while going 7-for-7 at the free-throw line.

Down the stretch, after Bennington (Peoria, Ill./Peoria Christian) had fouled out, the ball was often in Juergens' hands as a finisher in the Red Devils' press breaker and he knocked down several big shots.

"I had my guys telling me that you've got to go out and get buckets," he said. "You've been doing it the whole game and you can't stop now."

Senior Dakota Bennington (Peoria, Ill./Peoria Christian) racked up 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting in just over 22 1/2 minutes of play due to foul trouble. He also recorded the 1,000th point of his career as a Red Devil.

Also contributing standout performances were Ian Milsteadt (East Peoria, Ill./East Peoria), Hosea and Banks.

Milsteadt notched a season-high 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting and tied for a career high with 14 rebounds.

Hosea had a career night, reaching career highs in points (16), rebounds (8) and assists (7) and only had one turnover while facing immense pressure in Grinnell's signature never-ceasing full-court press.

Banks grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds, distributed a career-high four assists and made three big blocks.

J'Len Crawford (Bloomington, Ill./Bloomington), Chris Daniels (Peoria, Ill./Peoria), Austyn Ellison (Hudson, Ill./Bloomington Central Catholic), Kyle Henderson (Henry, Ill./Hery-Senachwine) and Kyler Stork (Normal, Ill./Normal West) made up EC's bench for the night and contributed 18 points.

The Red Devils had a five-point edge at halftime and stretched it to 12 with 16:44 left in the half, but within a few minutes, the Pioneers had nearly closed the gap.

Grinnell took its first lead of the half at 98-96 with 8:59 left in the game, and the visitors kept it close the rest of the way.

"That's how they play," Juergens said. "If you're up 10, you can't get too comfortable because they're coming back. They're firing shots. You know they're going to make some. It's just how you respond."