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Strong start, ugly finish : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Strong start, ugly finish
Oswego East boys' basketball team hangs on to defeat Downers Grove North

by Laura M. Medina


It was probably a closer call than the Oswego East boys' basketball team wanted, but the Wolves staved off a second-half comeback to secure a 59-50 non-conference win over host Downers Grove North at the Winter Classic on Saturday night.

Oswego East (6-10) led by two with just 1:32 remaining, but it sank seven of eight attempts from the free-throw line as the game wound down to ensure the victory, which came on the heels of the previous night's tough 74-69 loss to Southwest Prairie Conference foe Plainfield North.

"We have to come out in the second half with the same intensity that we have to start the game," Wolves first-year head coach Steve Szymanski said. "We've had great starts but our second half play...maybe it comes too easy to us in the first half, and we stop working, but we have to find a way to finish the game.

"There's no way that game should have come down to free throws at the end."

Despite that too-close-for-comfort finish, it was the Wolves' fifth win in their last eight games following a 1-7 start, a decidedly better showing for the young squad with a plethora of still-developing talent.

A low-scoring first quarter was marked by Oswego East's narrow 11-7 lead over Downers Grove North.

Sophomore forward Demetrius Ewing led the way with four points, while freshman forward Trevor Ross added three for the visiting side.

Each team scored four points in the first minute of the second, but over the next 2:56, the Wolves went on a 10-0 run that featured two three-pointers from senior guard Mike McAllister.

Downers Grove North ended its drought with guard Colin Kramper's shot from beyond the arc, but the Wolves bookended a layup with another pair of three-pointers - from senior guard Jeremy Mitchell and Ewing, respectively - to make it 33-16 with 1:50 left.

The Trojans chipped away at the lead with center Matt Mahlke's put-back, but McAllister sank another three for the Wolves. Center David Edwards added a jumper in the final seconds, but his team still trailed 36-20 at the half.

A commanding lead like that should have been enough for Oswego East to maintain as the game continued, but it would soon find that task to be much more difficult than expected.

McAllister and Ewing combined for three points in the first minute of the third, but over the next five minutes, it was all Downers Grove North, as the home team put together an impressive 15-1 run to bring its team within five.

"We came out great in the first half, but we've done that a lot this season," Szymanski said. "We've had 14-point, 18-point, and 16-point leads and all that, and we can't seem to build on that lead, and that's what we're struggling with.

"When you have a team down by that much, you have to build on it. We scored the first (three) points of the second half, but then we get complacent, or we don't take as many shots. We should be able to build on 16-point leads, but it's been a struggle."

Mahlke scored eight in that stretch, while forward Ray Greco added five to make it 40-35. Senior forward James Callegari drained the front-end of a pair of free throws to break up the scoring in that span.

Oswego East added a basket, and Downers Grove North contributed a three-pointer to provide the 42-38 margin heading into the fourth quarter.

"Our decision-making still has to be better in the second half," Szymanski said. "We make careless mistakes, we let the officiating get us down a lot, and when calls or things aren't going our way, we have to rise above that, not get down on ourselves, and just play tougher.

"We're a constant work in progress - some days we look great and other days, we wonder which team is going to show up."

Things stayed just as close - and even closer - in the next eight minutes, as the teams battled it out to stay on top. The Wolves never relinquished their lead, but they allowed the Trojans within two (52-50) at 1:32 remaining on the clock.

"Settling in and making better decisions - our shot selection was not good," Szymanski said. "The first half, the shots the came easy; in the second half, they obviously weren't, and Downers Grove North hit the boards a lot better. When you're one shot and done, it's tough to build on a lead."

With nothing available to them except fouling to stop the clock, Downers Grove North sent the opposition to the line four different times down the stretch, allowing Oswego East to score seven out of a possible eight times.

In turn, the Wolves' defense stepped up in a big way by keeping the Trojans off the board in that same stretch, allowing them to secure the 59-50 victory.

"I wish there was a magic formula for what we were doing wrong, but we're happy with a win," Szymanski said. "We needed one after the last couple of games, especially after losing (last Friday) to Plainfield North, but I thought we played them well. They're the top in our conference, but we were a couple mistakes from being right in there at the end of the game."

On Saturday, McAlister paced the Wolves with 22 points, while Ewing added nine points and grabbed three rebounds, and Callegari drained eight in the victory.

Ross chipped in five points and five rebounds, while senior forward Devin Flowers added six points, four rebounds and four steals.

Mahlke, meanwhile, led all Trojan scorers with 17 points off the bench, while Greco contributed 10 for the opposition.

Last weekend's game is in the past, but Oswego East has something to build on, as it resumes Southwest Prairie Conference competition with a visit from Plainfield East on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Notes: On Friday, Oswego East moved to 2-4 in SPC action with a 74-69 loss to Plainfield North. The Wolves finished with five players in double figures as Flowers and McAllister both scored 16 points, junior Houston McCullum had 12 points and eight rebounds, freshman Trevor Ross had 11 points and six boards and sophomore Demetrius Ewing had 10 points and nine rebounds.

The Wolves endured a slow start, trailing 13-4, but battled back into the game. Oswego East had hit another road bump in the fourth quarter, trailing by 12 points before cutting Plainfield North's lead to four, but the Tigers held on for the win.

Oswego East was 23-for-38 from the foul line and 11-for-18 in the fourth quarter.

"We did a good job getting to the line, but we needed to do a better job converting the free throws," Szymanski said. "Our team has the ability to beat anyone in the conference, but we also have the ability to lose to anyone in the conference, depending on how hard we play. Now if we can just put it together for an entire 32 minutes we will have more positive results."

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