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Oswego East boys' basketball team has winless showing at Hoops for Healing

by Laura M. Medina


A winless run in the Hoops for Healing tournament certainly wasn't the start Oswego East's boys' basketball team was expecting for its 2013 season, but that's the hand it was dealt, as it wrapped up play with a 65-60 loss to Metea Valley in the fifth-place game last Friday afternoon at Oswego.

Oswego East, which played in tournament co-host Naperville North's bracket, dropped matchups with Neuqua Valley, Benet Academy, and Naperville North ahead of playing Metea Valley, which lost to Naperville Central and Oswego before defeating Waukegan to set up the meeting.

Adversity is nothing new to the Wolves, who also went 0-4 in last year's tournament but rebounded to an even 14-14 overall record for the season.

"We're an inexperienced team, but you've got to keep it positive in situations like that," Oswego East first-year head coach Steve Szymanski said. "No one wants to start 0-4, but it's a long season. It's four months, but we've got to continue to work, continue to get better for our teammates."

In last week's tournament finale, Oswego East might not have come away with the results it wanted, but it showcased its potential on both sides of the ball, with several players leading the way on offense and defense.

One area of concern, however, was the team's struggle to play a full 32 minutes.

"We definitely showed flashes where we could do some really good things, but I think the biggest thing right now is that we have to put a full game together," Szymanski said.

"We can put halves together, we can put quarters together, but we have to put a game (together) where we have the same intensity, the same speed, the same tempo, and the same type of play where we're playing together, especially defensively. I feel like we've lost that a couple quarters, and it has cost us a couple games."

Shot for shot, the Wolves demonstrated that they could hang with the Mustangs, whose attempts to convincingly pull away in the first were consistently halted. The score was knotted at 15 with 17 seconds remaining in the quarter before Mark Konkle's layup as time expired put Metea Valley on top.

It was a low-scoring second quarter, but the teams kept pace with each other, with Metea Valley taking a 25-24 lead heading into halftime.

Each team scored coming out of the break, as the Mustangs briefly jumped ahead with a basket in the opening seconds, and Wolves sophomore forward Demetrius Ewing followed it up with a put-back and the ensuing free throw to tie the score again.

Ewing, with seven rebounds and three steals on the night, scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.

The teams played each other closely as the game continued, and Oswego East held a 44-43 edge by the end of the third.

"We played with a lot of intensity at times ... and we ran our offense a lot better than in the past, but we've just gotta be crisper, gotta be better," Szymanski said. "It's just one of those things where the more we practice, the better we become."

Leading just 50-49 about two minutes into the fourth, Metea Valley finally put together a score-opening 8-0 run behind four-point efforts from both Sam Henson and Marquell Oliver with 3:16 remaining.

A quick three-pointer from senior guard Manny Contreras, who sank three from behind the arc in the second half, brought the Wolves within six (58-52), but they couldn't chip away at the deficit as the clock wound down, eventually falling 65-60.

"We knew it was a tough tournament coming in, but it's a good test to kind of find out where we're at," Szymanski said. "Obviously, we would have liked better results."

At the conclusion of the game, senior forward Devin Flowers, who paced the Wolves with 20 points and four steals, and Oliver, who led all scorers with 21 points, were named Players of the Game for their respective teams.

Four losses might have deflated Oswego East's aspirations for the Hoops for Healing tournament, but the team has plenty to look forward to in the regular season, which continues Friday at Plainfield East in the Southwest Prairie Conference opener at 6:30 p.m.

"(Plainfield East) is going to be similar to the teams here," Szymanski said. "They're probably a favorite in the league. We know we have to step up the intensity; we know we have to bring it every single minute."

Notes: In the championship game, Benet defeated Naperville Central 71-47 on Friday night. Zach West was named the Oswego Pool MVP with an average of 31.7 points per game during the tournament including 11.7 rebounds per game. The Naperville North Pool MVP was Sean O'Mara of Benet, averaging 21 ppg and 11.3 rpg. Naperville North topped Oswego 79-61 for third place, and Neuqua Valley defeated Waukegan 77-71 for seventh place.

On Nov. 27, Oswego East dropped a 53-38 game to Naperville North. Contreras scored a team-best 16 points and junior Houston McCullum chipped in with eight.

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