Big guys battle in Bloomington

by John Ring

Two minutes into the Peoria Notre Dame-Galesburg game in the State Farm Classic last Friday afternoon, it looked like Brian Randle was going to have a monstrous day.

In just that span, the 6'8'' Randle-- bound for the University of Illinois next season-- had already scored six points and blocked two shots. Randle first sent Streaks 6'9'' center Pat Egan to the bench and then Derrek Blackwell followed shortly after picking up two fouls.

But then Egan came back in. And the Egan that reentered the game was a totally different player than the one that meekly went to the bench a few minutes earlier.

''Once I got on the sidelines it looked a lot different to me,'' said Egan. ''I saw that I needed to be a lot more aggressive, that we could take it to Randle. I needed to take the ball to him and just keep him off the boards.''

Egan did just that. From the five-minute mark of the first quarter until the game ended, the Randle-Egan battle was a wash. Egan had 15 points and 6 rebounds, Randle ended up with 13 points (8 in the first quarter) and six blocked shots.

But Derrek Blackwell got into the act as well. And only the fiery, vocal leader of the Silver Streaks could do that.

Blackwell scored 10 second-half points and clearly frustrated Randle with his bruising, physical play. The 6'2'' Blackwell pounded Randle physically and got into his head as well.

''I told him he was too weak for the Big 10,'' said Blackwell. ''I mean, if he couldn't hang with me, what's he going to do in the Big 10? That's exactly what I said to him.''

Blackwell's version of Mind Games worked. Randle got more physical. He grabbed Blackwell's jersey three times, layed a huge elbow into the face of freshman guard Joel Dieterich and got so frustrated when Curtis Kilgore hounded him, Randle dribbled the ball of his foot out of bounds.

''Randle's a quiet guy,'' said Egan. ''Normally, he just plays basketball. I know him from playing against him this past summer.''

Randle's foul problems-- along with the scoring of Egan, Dieterich (13), Kilgore (10 pounds, 12 rebounds) and Blackwell eventually gave the Streaks a 44-43 lead. And after Egan fouled Randle out on an impressive move and basket in the paint with 2:50 left in the game, the Streaks trailed just 50-49.

But the play of two role players-- point guard Jason Whalen and Sami Rasmussen-- saved the Irish. Rasmussen's four three-point shots were critical for Notre Dame and Whalen hit 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch to ice the victory.

''We lost him in the corner,'' assistant coach Jeff Houston said about Rasmussen.

As the Streaks went down in flames, even Dieterich made some sloppy passes-- remember that this is a freshman-- but in his 24 minutes of play that day, Dieterich played more like a junior or senior than a 9th grader.

''The best part about the poor stretch that Joel had was when we were on the bench during a time out,'' said Houston. ''The seniors looked at Joel and told him not to lose his confidence. They said, 'We still believe in you'.''

''Derrek Blackwell was the guy who did that,'' said Streaks Coach Geoff Falk. ''It was great to see. It's a unique situation where the seniors are standing up for a freshman. They embrace him. They were upset when he was on the sophomore squad and not with them.''

''That's the best thing about this tournament,'' said Houston. ''Down here, all we have is each other. The kids are starting to trust each other. The kids are learning their roles.''

''Everybody can hold their heads high after this game,'' said Blackwell. ''We're going in the right direction. We're ready to go on a roll.''

The team that started off so abysmally-- their first three losses were about as bad as you could get-- is now respectable. A lot of it is because Blackwell is back. Another big reason is the play of Dieterich, who has stretches where he's given the Silver Streaks the best point guard play they're had since Steve Glasgow in 1998. Another is Kilgore, who has a nose for the ball and is relentless underneath. Kilgore should have 'No Fear' emblazoned on his jersey.

''Derrek is our emotional leader,'' said Coach Geoff Falk. ''The guys always look to him. Just having him on the floor is huge for us. Joel is a steady ballhandler with savvy. Curtis gives us another scoring option and he's quicker than most people think.''

The Streaks left Bloomington with another loss-- this one to Tinley Park when a last ditch fourth quarter rally fell short-- and they have a week off to build on the progress that seems to be made since their disastrous first week of the season.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website December 31, 2002

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