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Defensive execution leads to win : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Defensive execution leads to win
Oswego basketball starts 2-0 at Hoops for Healing tournament

by Laura M. Medina


With a young squad boasting a variety of offensive and defensive skills, Oswego's boys basketball team is bound to experience its share of exciting games during the 2013-14 slate.

There is a good chance the Panthers didn't expect such a result in their first contest of the season, but that is exactly what they received Monday night, securing a 75-74 victory over Waukegan in their opening match-up at the Hoops for Healing tournament.

While one bracket played at co-host Naperville North, the Panthers and their competition held court in Oswego's newly renovated and expanded gym, which was ceremoniously unveiled after Naperville Central's tournament-opening 56-51 win over Metea Valley.

The Hoops for Healing tournament, started in 2001 to raise awareness and funds for cancer research and co-hosted locally by the Huskies and Panthers for nine straight seasons, continued Tuesday night, with Oswego improving to 2-0 following a 59-52 victory over Metea Valley.

Junior Zach West, who averaged 7.2 points per game last season, scored 28 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in defeating the Mustangs.

However, it was his gutsy performance in Monday's contest that is sure to stick with fans as the remainder of the winter schedule continues.

West seemingly factored into every play versus Waukegan, with 35 points and nine rebounds to his name, but his game-clinching free throw after time expired proved to be his most important shot of the night.

"Fortunately, we (escaped) with a wild win," Oswego head coach Kevin Schnable said. "We'll take it, we stole it, but what a great game as far as a high school season goes. I feel for Waukegan; it's a tough one, but I'm big-time proud of our basketball team.

"We were gritty, we were gutsy, we were bending, but we made a play, and what a credit to our kids to come together as a defensive unit and get the defensive stop."

That defense, though, wasn't quite locked in during the first half, as Waukegan scored the game's first basket and took a 10-3 lead with about five minutes left in the first quarter.

Eventually, the Panthers worked their way back and knotted the score at 20 with 4:52 remaining in the second, but the Bulldogs regained control with a 9-2 swing over the next two minutes.

An 8-2 push by Oswego in the ensuing 1:04 put the home side within one, but Waukegan pulled ahead as the quarter wound down and led 39-35 heading into the halftime.

Things were tighter in the second half, as the teams traded scores and leads, eventually tying at 51 apiece with 39.2 seconds remaining. Catoni Collins' layup put the Bulldogs ahead as the clock ticked down, but Panthers freshman Jaylen Jones' transition basket with five seconds left made it a 53-53 game heading into the fourth.

"After the first half, we just relaxed and started the second half off with a stop and a score, and we started rolling from there," West said.

Oswego was not content with just keeping pace in the final quarter. West scored the go-ahead three-pointer (61-59) with 5:31 remaining, spurring the ensuing 6-2 run that made it 67-61 with about three minutes to go.

"I'm looking to be more of a scorer and lead the team to victory, and if that requires me to score more points or get more assists, then that's what I'll do to help the team," West said.

Waukegan, though, answered with six straight points for the tie, and stayed right with the Panthers as the game went down to the wire. Two free throws from Tyler Williams put the Bulldogs on top 74-71 with 29.2 seconds left, but West set up sophomore Joe Hennessy for a tying three-pointer just three seconds later.

Possession in favor of Waukegan put Oswego on its heels as the game started to close out, but a perfectly executed defensive play gave the Panthers one final opportunity to win.

"Our coaches preach every day that when we set a ball screen, we're supposed to double that, and (Waukegan) did exactly what we wanted them to, which was pass over the top," West said. "We got a deflection, got the ball to the point guard, pushed the ball up the floor, and then I got the ball and took it to the hoop to hopefully get a foul, which I did."

Whistles were blown as time expired, and West was awarded two shots, but he only needed one to sink the game-winner for the 75-74 outcome.

Monday's exciting finish was a great way for youthful Oswego to establish itself in the tournament, but the court on which it played wasn't the only new thing on display for the Panthers.

After fielding a senior-driven team for the last few years, Schnable's current 15-player squad includes just three seniors.

Despite the lack of experience, the Panthers' youth movement came up big on Monday. West had his big game, Jones scored 14 points and totaled five rebounds, seven steals, and five assists, while sophomore Joe Hennessy added 11 points, two assists, and two blocks.

Sophomore Brice Robinson contributed seven points, four rebounds, and a block for Oswego, which returned to the court for its third day of competition on Wednesday night versus Naperville Central.

Results were not available at press time, but the Hoops for Healing tournament wraps up Friday at Oswego with the fourth-place game starting at 2:30 p.m. Oswego, with its 2-0 start, could play later in the day, when the higher-place contests are expected to tip-off.

"It's a lot of fun, but it is a different dynamic; I feel like I'm coaching sophomore basketball, but then, we have to remind ourselves that we're playing a varsity schedule," Schnable said. "They stepped up, and we've gotta be patient.

"We made our fair share of mistakes, and we proved that we could score, but defense wins games, and we've gotta shore things up defensively, but all in all, it was a learning experience, and experience is the best teacher. Our kids grew up, but we're not going to get all crazy over this. It feels good, but we certainly don't have time to feel satisfied, and we have to get back at it."

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