When Bruce Bonness took over as the Highland boys basketball coach over the summer, he stressed the importance of playing sound defense.
The Cougars have bought in and now they're in contention for a Clarence Cannon Conference championship.
Highland, now 8-10 overall and 4-1 in the CCC, handed Clark County its first conference loss in a 41-32 game on Tuesday night. The Cougars held the Indians' leading scorer in Chandler Bevans -- who has a pair of 40-point games this season -- to just 10 points.
"I've been preaching since June that the effort on the defensive end will keep you in games," Bonness said. "It was just kind of validation (Tuesday) night that was true."
It was the second time Highland knocked off a CCC heavyweight.
On Jan. 24, Highland upset state-ranked Monroe City 63-60 at home. The Panthers were fresh off a championship in the Tony Lenzini Tournament at Palmyra.
In their five CCC games, the Cougars are allowing just 49.4 points per game.
"We like to hang our hat on that," Bonness said. "We'd like to think we can score the ball, too. But we don't depend on that. We know we can depend on our defense."
Bonness credited junior Keaton Johnston's ability to lock down opposing team's main scoring threats. Against Clark County, he limited Zeb Riney to just six points.
"He doesn't do a lot of scoring, but he does everything else," he said. "He leads us in assists, steals and is second in rebounding as a point guard."
Highland has three CCC games remaining -- including tonight's road game against Macon -- and knows it controls its own destiny for a conference title.
Bonness knows that won't be handed to them.
"We know we are and what the situation is," he said. "But we're going to Macon and we have to be ready to play. We can't take any nights off, especially on the road."
Chargers adjust to losing point guard
The Illini West boys basketball team will be short-handed for the remainder of the season, but coach Bill Rasmussen doesn't seem to be bothered.
He knows the players he has on roster are more than capable of performing.
Guard Connor Artman left the team last week, leaving the Chargers without their starting point guard. That's forced Rasmussen to make some lineup changes that includes Jackson Porter moving to the point and Jacob Bryan moves from the bench to starting shooting guard.
"He was a good player and he'll certainly be missed," Rasumussen said. "But we preach the next man up philosophy. It could easily be a twisted ankle or the flu and this late in the season those can be season-ending. That's how we're treating this."
Illini West has shown it can still win, too. The Chargers picked up a 59-37 victory over Bowling Green in the KHQA/Country Financial Superfan Shootout last weekend. In the victory, Aden Trout scored 18 points on the strength of four 3-pointers.
But it also showed vulnerability in a 45-42 home loss to Central on Tuesday night. It was the fifth game Illini West lost by five or fewer points as its record went to 15-11.
"We're a possession here and another possession there from having a fantastic season," Rasmussen said. "I'm confident with what we have and looking forward to this postseason run."