TERRE HAUTE — All Robinson has to do tonight to win the Springfield Super-sectional and advance to the Illinois Class 2A state finals later in the week is snap a winning streak by Decatur St. Teresa.
A 29-game winning streak.
The 24-5 Maroons face the 29-1 Bulldogs — who lost their season opener to Champaign St. Thomas More — at 7:30 p.m. CST today at the University of Illinois-Springfield, the winner to face either Hales Franciscan or Timothy Christian in the second state semifinal game on Friday.
Robinson was ranked eighth in the state in one final Class 2A poll, with St. Teresa sixth. But the Maroons advanced to tonight’s game by shutting down fifth-ranked Teutopolis on Friday for the championship of the Effingham St. Anthony Sectional.
“I thought we had a great week [at Effingham],” coach Bob Coffman of Robinson told the Tribune-Star by telephone earlier this week.
“We faced a good challenge Tuesday [in Tolono Unity]; they tried to hold the ball a little bit, and it worked for about 20 minutes. But we got the tempo our way, forced two overtimes and won.
“Teutopolis beat us by 10 or 11 points early in the season, and they’d just overpowered us with their defense and their aggressiveness,” Coffman continued. “Friday we were able to contain that, and got the ball inside.”
Getting the ball inside means a lot of touches for 7-foot Illinois recruit Meyers Leonard, a double-double threat every night — or even a triple-double threat, since he’s an excellent passer out of the post. Leonard is a tough matchup for any 2A team, and the first focus of every opponent’s game plan.
He’s not Robinson’s only weapon, however. Those passes from the post have a couple of potentially high-scoring targets in forward Ben Jones and guard Derek Hannahs, and Robinson’s role players are also integral to the team’s success.
Leaders of the Bulldogs are point guard Preston Shelley, who had 12 points in their sectional championship win over Pittsfield, and 6-5 Nick Sanford, who led St. Teresa that night with 17 points and nine rebounds. The Bulldogs have no 7-footer, but are as big or bigger than the Maroons at the other spots.
“They’re a pretty good, athletic team,” Coffman said of the Bulldogs. “Shelley can really shoot the ball well and also can put it on the floor, and Sanford is a pretty good scorer and a solid defender inside. They look to pressure the ball and bring some double-teams [defensively].”
Robinson enjoys playing up-tempo basketball too, so tonight’s game should be an entertaining one with a lot of scoring.
“The key for us is making sure we do what we want to do, and what we’ve been doing,” Coffman concluded. “Get the ball inside, penetrate, and get to the free throw line. We also have to be able to defend and rebound well.”
The team’s common opponent this year is Tolono Unity; both beat Unity handily during the regular season.
Unity also had a one-sided win over St. Thomas More to win its own regional tournament.