JEFFERSON, Wis. - This was decidedly not the way the Beloit Turner basketball team wanted to ring in the new year.
The Trojans, who fancy themselves as a candidate for the Rock Valley Conference title, struggled mighitly in the first half, made a valiant comeback, then faded down the stretch in a 60-57 loss to Jefferson.
The defeat snapped a six-game winning streak for the Trojans, and left them at 5-2 in RVC play and 6-3 overall. Turner is 1 1-2 games behind 6-0 East Troy, who they will face on the road Tuesday evening in their next game.
Thursday's game was a rather wild up-and-down affair. Jefferson threw the first punch, utilizing a series of backdoor cuts and put-backs to build a 32-16 lead. The last minute of the first half proved to be a harbinger of things to come, as Alton Tinder and Steve Dillard each made three-pointers to cut the margin to 32-22 at halftime.
After surrendering the first basket of the second half, the Trojans made their move, thanks in large measure to the aggressive play of Dillard. The senior scored the game's next eight points, and Turner's next 11, as the Trojans cut the deficit to 37-35 with 12:30 to play.
Turner would continue its surge and eventually take a 47-43 lead with 6:33 to go in the game. It appeared as though the Trojans had weathered the storm, would overcome a slow start and play Tuesday with first place on the line.
That's when the stubborn Eagles had to go and rewrite the story. They did so in emphatic fashion, putting together a 15-0 run that gave them a 58-47 advantage with 2:23 to play.
The Trojans didn't give up and eventually trailed by just five points with 1:22 to play. After a Jefferson miss at the foul line, Jordan Majeed's open 3-pointer from the right wing clanged off the rim, and out went TUrner's best chance at a victory.
Dillard, who led the Trojans with 25 points including six treys, said the loss was predictable.
"We had a couple of really bad practices after coming back from break," Dillard said. "And that really carried over to the game tonight. When it came to that run, that was just us not stepping up and taking charges. You know they are coming down the lane hard, but we just fell asleep out there. We have still yet to put together a solid 36 minutes of basketball. Last year at this point, we were riding high after beating East Troy. Then we lost three out of four. This is the point where our season is going to be defined. Are we going to be champions or are we going to be average?"
Turner coach Ken Watkins said he was disappointed in his team's approach leading up to the game.
"There's no excuse for having bad practices and then coming out and not executing the things we've worked on," Watkins said. "I can understand guys getting beat on back cuts on occasion, but I can't understand the help defense not being there behind him. I just didn't think we played very hard in the first half. In the second half, we played much better. But you can't have a night off like that against any of the top six teams in our conference. Jefferson is a really good team and they deserved to win tonight."
The Eagles were led by Cory Kaiser's 22 points, while Ryan Brost added 17.
• Boxscore: JEFFERSON 64, TURNER 61
Turner (61)-Majeed 4-2-11, Wash 1-0-3, Draeving 4-2-10, Tinder 3-0-7, Dillard 9-1-25, Hoppe 0-2-2, Carter 1-0-3. Totals: 22-7-61.
Jefferson (64)-Sukow 2-0-4, Kaiser 8-2-22, Brost 8-0-17, Stelse 5-0-11, Monogue 0-5-5, Vogel 2-0-5. Totals: 25-7-64.
Beloit Turner 22 39-61
Jefferson 32 32-64
3-point goals-Turner 10 (Dillard 6, Majeed, Wash, Tinder, Carter), Jefferson 7 (Kaiser 4, Brost, Stelse, Vogel). Free throws missed-Turner 6, Jefferson 10. Total fouls-Turner 17, Jefferson 14.