By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
WARSAW, Ill. -- John Hughs felt fortunate to get out of Friday night's Hancock County Tournament against Unity with a victory.
The Illini West boys basketball team nearly let a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter slip away before hanging on for a 57-54 win.
"We tried to give it away but I'm not sure if (Unity) wanted to take it," said Hughs, the Chargers' head coach. "We had a lot of defensive letdowns in the fourth quarter and those defensive letdowns led to offensive letdowns."
Brody Gronewold's two free throws with 6 minutes, 14 seconds left gave Illini West (8-6) a 48-31 lead. Unity's Will Klusmeyer committed his third foul on the play, putting Illini West in the double bonus.
The Mustangs (10-8) played their best basketball of the tournament during the rest of the game.
Unity answered Gronewold's free throws with a 17-2 run over the next 2:45. Dylan Shaffer's two free throws cut the Chargers' lead to 50-48 with 3:29 left.
Less than a minute later, Unity got a little closer. Klusmeyer rebounded a missed shot by Gronewold and passed the ball downcourt to Doyle who scored to cut the lead to 51-50.
That was as close as the Mustangs could get.
"(The fourth quarter) was what we should've been doing the whole game," said Unity coach Keith Carothers, whose team is 0-3 in the tournament. "Tonight's first half was a little better than the other first halves we've been playing this week. But how we come out and play early in games needs to improve a lot."
The Mustangs kept it close in the first half, trailing 28-24 at halftime. The Chargers opened the third quarter with a 13-2 run, taking a 41-26 when Ethan Neally connected for his second straight three-point play with 1:12 left.
Gronewold scored a game-high 25 points to lead Illini West -- which finishes the tournament 2-2 -- while Neally added 12. Klusmeyer led Unity -- which plays Southeastern at 6 p.m. Saturday -- with 13 points, while Doyle added 10.