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Lofty goal achieved : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Lofty goal achieved
Oswego East boys' basketball team places second at Romeoville

by Laura M. Medina


The Oswego East boys' basketball team has faced its fair share of adversity during the first part of its current season, so heading into the holiday break, first-year head coach Steve Szymanski established just one goal for his team's showing at the Romeoville Christmas Classic - make it to the championship game.

While the expectation might have been lofty, it was one that the Wolves were able to reach after winning the first three games of the large-school bracket and heading to the title matchup against an equally strong Oak Forest team. Unfortunately, it was the Bengals that emerged with the 85-72 triumph on Dec. 30.

Winless in its first six games of the season, Oswego East (4-8) picked up its first victory on Dec. 13 versus Southwest Prairie Conference rival Romeoville. It endured a heartbreaking 58-51 overtime loss to cross-town rival Oswego one week later.

But the Wolves turned things around with wins over Argo, Reavis and Shepard in advance of the tournament's title game versus Oak Forest, fulfilling the first part of Szymanski's aspirations.

"I'm overall happy with our tournament," Szymanski said. "We came into it with one win into the season, and our goal had been to be playing at 8 p.m. on (Dec. 30), and we achieved that. Obviously, we would have liked to win the game, but we grew as a team; we became better.

"As a whole, you can't just look at the second half of this game and look at our experience and say it wasn't successful. We got better, and we saw some good things."

Oswego East found success from the tip-off, as senior forward Devin Flowers drained a three-pointer 50 seconds in. Both teams were soon in on the action, with the Wolves leading 18-12 with about two minutes left in the first.

Flowers paced his team with seven points in that span, while guard David Gray led the Bengals with eight.

"Whenever I touched the ball, I felt like I just wanted to shoot, because it was going in," said Flowers, who led the Wolves with 28 points and also grabbed three rebounds, four steals and two assists. "I just didn't want to stop shooting."

It was Oak Forest that found its stride in the waning minutes of the quarter, as it reeled off eight unanswered points on back-to-back three-pointers from guard Jason Roland and guard Tom Shute, respectively, and on Roland's drive to the basket with 35 seconds remaining to take a 20-18 lead.

Sophomore forward Demetrius Ewing tied the score with a layup 12 seconds into the second, and the squads traded baskets on the next three possessions, putting the Bengals ahead 24-22 with 6:44 remaining.

Oak Forest had all of the momentum and used it to string together a 10-3 run, led by Shute's five points and center Kyle Flanagan's three free throws, to make it a 34-25 game with 4:21 left.

Oswego East would not give up that easily, doubling up the Bengals with a 12-6 surge to come within three points of the lead (40-37) on the efforts of five different scorers with just 1:09 remaining in the half.

But that was plenty of time for Oak Forest to open its lead with a 7-1 run - Shute scored all seven points - as time ran out.

"When we play together as a team, we play great," Flowers said. "When we started putting our heads down, then we don't."\

Flanagan (17 points, 14 rebounds) scored four points to give the Bengals a 51-38 advantage 2:23 into the third, but the Wolves worked hard to cut the deficit.

Flowers had six points, while Ewing and senior guard Jeremy Mitchell (11 points, seven rebounds, five assists, six steals) each had a basket to offset scores from Flanagan and Roland and make it a 55-48 game with two minutes left in the quarter.

Oswego East outscored Oak Forest 7-4 over the next few minutes to come to within four, however, that would be the closest the Wolves would get to the lead the rest of the game.

Guard Armon Williams added a three-pointer for the Bengals in the last two seconds, and his team jumped ahead even further in the fourth, building a 66-58 advantage with 6:03 remaining in the game.

In the next three minutes, Oswego East could not keep up with Oak Forest's 8-2 swing during which freshman forward Trevor Ross was whistled for a technical.

"If you're doing something that's detrimental to your teammates, it's going to hurt the whole result," Szymanski said. "He was frustrated. I know Trevor is upset looking at that, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's his last technical in four years.

"It's not a good thing, but he'll learn from it more than anything, and as long as we continue to learn from it, they'll get better."

The Wolves tried to claw their way out of the double-digit hole, working to an 80-70 deficit with 1:18 left before the Bengals' eventual 85-72 victory.

"We just have to finish," Szymanski said. "We have to execute at the end of games; I think that's been a struggle. When things aren't going our way, we have to continue to work."

After the final buzzer, Oswego East's Flowers and senior guard Mike McAllister (14 points, five rebounds, four steals) were named to the All-Tournament team, along with Oak Forest's Shute (31 points, four rebounds, four steals, three assists), Williams (10 points four rebounds, two assists), and Flanagan, who was named the most valuable player.

Oswego East may not have ended the calendar with the tournament title, but there were plenty of positives to take away from Szymanski's perspective.

"I think we have a confident group of guys no matter what their situation is, but the playing together is huge," he said. "When we start trusting each other and start playing for each other, we're going to have more success. Coming into the season, there were so many guys that hadn't played together yet, but we're getting there. We're taking steps in the right direction for that."

Due to the frozen conditions in the area this week - which prompted school closures on Monday and Tuesday - Oswego East's SPC contest at Minooka on Tuesday night was postponed to Feb. 4. The Wolves are slated to host Plainfield Central on Friday with a 6:30 p.m. tip-off.

"As long as we keep building as a team and getting better, I think we're going to be alright. That was the goal of our Christmas tournament - to end 2013 on a good note and come into 2014 and start taking it to some teams," Szymanski said.

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