Indians make Panthers work for SPC title : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Indians make Panthers work for SPC title|
|Still undefeated, Oswego clinches first conference championship since 1998 |
|by Laura M. Medina|
As the season has progressed, close games have been few and far between for the Oswego boys' basketball team, which has overwhelmed nearly every opponent during its current 13-game winning streak.
How the Panthers have handled those tightly fought battles, however, is the true proof of their overall dominance.
Last Friday night, the Panthers managed to stave off Minooka's comeback long enough to emerge with the 56-51 home victory, keeping them perfect in Southwest Prairie Conference play and helping them clinch the league title outright.
It is the first conference championship for Oswego since 1998, and first-ever SPC championship.
Oswego (24-2, 12-0) has seemingly dictated the outcome of every game it has played thus far. A quick scan through the results reveals that the team has posted 17 double-digit wins overall, with 10 coming by at least 20 points or more.
Heading into last Friday's game versus Minooka, the Panthers had defeated the opposition by an average of 19.1 points during a 12-game winning streak, which began after a 79-55 loss at the Proviso West tournament on Dec. 29.
But the Panthers have faced a few tough foes in that span, with one of the most competitive being the Indians, who dropped a close contest to them, 63-57, on Jan. 11.
Things were just as close in their meeting last Friday, which started a few minutes later than scheduled following the induction ceremony that welcomed 17 new members into Athletic Hall of Fame.
After the fanfare of school spirit, Oswego took a 2-0 lead on senior guard Elliot McGaughy's game-opening jumper 11 seconds in. That advantage was soon erased, though, as Minooka went on a 9-2 swing over the next 3:40.
"Give credit to Minooka...we did not have our best game; Minooka made us play that way," Oswego head coach Kevin Schnable said. "At the same time, it's that time of year, where we need experience executing in special situations, and based on observation, we need practice in that area."
Not to be outdone, the Panthers strung together a 7-2 run of their own to knot the score at 11 with 1:33 remaining in the first. They went on to finish the quarter, leading 14-12.
"It was good to have a game like this where it's close," senior guard Miles Simelton said. "In the past, we've been winning games by large margins, and our coaches have been telling us that the playoff games won't be like that, so it's good for us to have experience with these."
Oswego came out forcefully in the first 4:12 of the second, going on a 13-4 run to build its biggest lead of the game (27-16). Simelton had eight points in that stretch, and two of those came on a well-executed alley-oop set up by McGaughy's steal at the other end of the court.
Senior guard Jamaal Richardson (three assists, three steals) added a basket, while sophomore reserve guard Zach West chipped in a three-pointer in that stretch.
Minooka halted the surge with guard-forward Neal Tyrell's three-pointer, but West responded with one of his own a few seconds later to restore the 11-point lead (30-19).
"I definitely think we're a really balanced team; we're kind of like pick-your-poison - any guy can get hot at any given time," Simelton said. "Zach stepped up for us big time. He didn't play like a sophomore and knocked down some big shots for us, so it's good to have people around that we know can put the ball into the basket."
It was the Indians, however, that ended the half on a positive note. After guard/forward Joe Butler drained the front-end of a one-and-one, guard P.J. Jones rebounded the missed second shot and put it up with 0.4 seconds left to cut into the lead.
A back-and-forth offensive battle marked the first four minutes of the third, which saw Minooka work itself to within five (37-32).
But Oswego responded with two three-pointers - one drained by Simelton and one set up by him for senior guard Danny Mangers - over the next 1:13 to make it 43-32.
Guard Darrin Myers sank a jumper from the free-throw line as time expired in the quarter, and the Indians used that momentum to ignite a 7-1 swing in the first 3:02 of the fourth, cutting the Panthers' lead, 44-41.
That's when West stepped up in a big way for Oswego.
Already with 10 points on the night, he drove in for a layup on the ensuing possession, and 37 seconds later, senior guard-forward Darion Reddick (eight points, two steals) dished him the ball from beyond-the-arc, where he drained a shot that would create a bit more breathing room with a 49-41 lead.
"Zach West did not play like a sophomore," Schnable said. "On a night when we needed a lift, he provided it. He was the hot hand, and the guys kept feeding him there. He's long on defense, so he got deflections and obstructions and timely stops when we needed them. A great game by Zach."
Minooka would not concede the victory just yet, as Butler notched the team's next four points. After Simelton's drive was waived off on the following possession because of an offensive foul, Oswego rallied back with a pair of free throws from Reddick to make it 51-45.
Butler continued putting the visitors on his shoulders, drawing a foul from Richardson as his basket fell through and sinking the free throw to cut the deficit back to three points with 1:03 remaining.
Looking to take some time off the clock on its next possession, Oswego held on long enough to draw a foul but missed both from the charity stripe and allowed Minooka to grab the rebound and call the time out at the 24.4-second mark.
Senior forward Jack Kwiatkowski, however, was able to steal the ball away when play resumed. As Simelton went for another basket, he was fouled but only drained the back-end of his attempts to push the lead ahead to 52-48.
Minooka had the ball with just 13.5 left, but a line infraction on the inbound pass allowed Oswego to regain command on the next rush, thanks to Simelton's lay-in.
The game was all but over, when Indians guard-forward Adam Holstine made a three-pointer with about four ticks remaining to trim the margin to 54-51 again. But a foul on the next possession allowed McGaughy (nine points, five rebounds, two blocks, two assists) to make two important free throws to seal the victory.
"It was a grinder," said Simelton, who finished with a team-high 18 points, three assists and two steals. "We had to get some stops, and we made our free throws when we needed to, but we gave up that three near the end. We fought through it, got the 'W,' and got the conference championship, so we're happy about that."
Aside from the title, Oswego pushed its winning streak to 13 games and remained perfect in the SPC. But the team also entered the game having secured the top seed in the Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional for the first time in the program's history.
It's just one of many accolades the Panthers have enjoyed thus far, but according to Schnable, there's still plenty of room to grow before they reach their full potential.
"We haven't lost since the holidays, we're undefeated in conference play, and we sealed the deal of winning outright...but we're not exempt from improvement; we don't want to be," said Schnable, whose team is just two wins away from going 14-0 in the SPC.
"The number-one seed? We'll add that to our resume in terms of what these kids have earned, and it says a lot about how we set them up with a strong schedule, and they passed tests along the way. We're excited about it, but the number-one seed is just that - it's a title, and now, we want to go win that title."
Before the Panthers head off to the regional, however, they must first finish off their last two regular-season games. A matchup at Romeoville is scheduled for Feb. 21, but on Friday, they'll play their home finale versus Plainfield North on Senior Night, where they'll honor all winter-sport student-athletes, including their 10 fourth-year stars.
"We have a group of kids - and of course, I'm biased - but they're just special," Schnable said. "They've been around for a long time now; they've fought through a variety of adversities, and here we are. It's their senior year, and we're at the top because of them. They have really bought into what we try to do.
"A big difference between this year and the previous two is that we're guarding a lot harder, and we're just playing together; the egos are checked at the door. It's fun to be a small part of it, but I'm proud of our boys. It's going to be tough for our coaches when this group of kids leave."
Notes: The Oswego boys' basketball team will be not only celebrating Senior Night against Plainfield North on Friday, but the game will also be the last time the team will play in the main gym before construction begins. All alumni attending the game will not be charged admission.
Oswego will open the Batavia Regional on Feb. 26 against the winner of the No. 16 Plainfield East/No. 17 Batavia contest at 6 p.m.