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Wolves experience early growing pains : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Wolves experience early growing pains
Szymanski finds bright spots in opening tournament games

by Kristin Sharp


The Oswego East boys' basketball season opener had mixed reviews, but that was to be expected from a new-look lineup that was charged with starting the season against a Neuqua Valley team that reached a sectional semifinal one year ago.

In Steve Szymanski's head coaching debut, Oswego East traveled to Naperville North to kick off the annual Hoops for Healing tournament and dropped an 82-69 game to Neuqua Valley.

The Wolves (0-2) struggled to beat the Wildcats on the glass and fell into an early 19-10 deficit. Neuqua Valley's early control of the scoreboard proved to be the difference as the Wildcats outscored the Wolves by just four points in the second half, 44-40.

"The biggest thing we need to work on is we need to move the ball," Szymanski said. "There were times you could tell we're holding the ball too long and we get ourselves in trouble. There were parts that looked stagnant. It's the first game and hopefully we'll build on this. We knew it was going to be a tough matchup coming in, but this whole tournament is. We'll see what we can do."

Neuqua Valley scored the first seven points of the game and junior guard Connor Rairdon (20 points) sank his second three-pointer in the opening four minutes to give the Wildcats a 10-5 edge. Oswego East senior guard Jeremy Mitchell gave the Wolves' offense a jolt by hitting a three-pointer and scoring eight of the team's 11 points in the first quarter.

Neuqua Valley turned a 23-11 lead at the end of the opening period into a 26-13 advantage before junior forward Houston McCullum found his rhythm on the court. His first layup led to a 10-point effort in the second quarter, and Neuqua Valley called a timeout with 2:43 remaining in the half when its lead shrank to four, 29-25.

Neuqua Valley responded behind the efforts of juniors Demond George and Zachary Lendino. George's basket was promptly followed by Lendino's steal and layup to put the Wildcats ahead 35-27.

Neuqua Valley closed out the first half at the foul line to take a 38-29 lead at intermission.

"They're a very good fundamental team. We know Rairdon is their guy, but when we did a good job on him, they had other guys open and they hurt us just as much," Szymanski said.

McCullum (18 points, seven rebounds) scored the first four points of the third quarter and Mitchell (13 points) made his first of two free throws, with McCullum rebounding the second missed free throw for two additional points and a 40-36 game.

With 5:15 to play in the third quarter, Rairdon sank another three-pointer, but Oswego East forced a steal and senior Mike McAllister was on the receiving end under the basket, completing the layup for a 44-40 game.

Rairdon scored six more points down the stretch to give Neuqua Valley a 59-46 lead entering the fourth quarter, and McCullum took a seat on the bench as he received his fourth foul just 27 seconds into the final period of play.

Freshman Trevor Ross (17 points) stepped up in the second half, and after scoring seven points in the third quarter, he chipped in with eight more in the fourth period including a three-point play to create a 71-56 game and spark an eight-point run.

"Houston did a really nice job. He really had some good buckets inside and gave us a good presence there," Szymanski said. "Trevor is a good player. He's a freshman, but you never could tell by the way he plays out there.

McAllister had a putback and Mitchell scored to turn an 18-point game into a 71-60 game, but Neuqua Valley connected on 10 free throws in the final period - shooting 22-for-32 in the game - to put the game out of reach.

Neuqua Valley outrebounded Oswego East 39-25, with the Wolves pulling down just 15 defensive rebounds. The Wolves went 8-for-17 at the line.

"The rebounding was a big thing. We gave up too many rebounds, and we didn't knock down too many free throws, which hurt us," Szymanski said. "They shot really well from the line. It would have been nice to get a few more stops in there, but that was the key; we have to get those rebounds."

On Tuesday, Oswego East returned to Naperville North to face Benet Academy - a Super Sixteen team last year - and the Wolves lost 64-48 to the Redwings.

The Wolves returned to tournament play on Wednesday at Oswego, facing Naperville North, but results were unavailable at press time. Benet was 2-0 in pool play with Naperville North and Neuqua Valley at 1-1 and Oswego East at 0-2 entering Wednesday's play. Crossover play will take place Friday beginning at 2:30 p.m. with the fourth-place teams in each pool, followed by games at 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and the championship game at 7 p.m.

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