Earning their props : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Earning their props|
|Oswego East boys basketball team defeats state elite Neuqua Valley |
|by Matt Daniels|
Mike Sutton needed clarification about Jordon Harris' point total.
"Did he really have 38?" the Neuqua Valley boys basketball coach asked in regards to the Oswego East standout guard.
Even if it may not have felt like it, Harris did drop 38 points on Sutton's Wildcats to lead Oswego East to a 68-62 victory on Tuesday night in a non-conference game that could possibly serve as a preview to the Class 4A Neuqua Valley Sectional championship.
Playing in front of a large home crowd, along with various high school head coaches in the sectional field scouting the two teams and assistant coaches from Ball State, Illinois State, Virginia Tech and Loyola of Chicago head coach Jim Whitesell in attendance to watch Harris, one of the state's premier unsigned seniors, the Wolves certainly showed they belong with the state's elite when the postseason starts next week.
That's what a win against the Wildcats (25-2) - who came into the game ranked second in the state in Class 4A, according to the most recent Associated Press poll - will do.
"For the program, this is a great win," said Johnny Savu, Oswego East's senior forward who did not score Tuesday, but came up with two big defensive plays in the fourth quarter when he took a charge with Neuqua Valley up 55-53 and contested a three-pointer from Neuqua Valley junior forward Jim Stocki with Oswego East ahead 62-58. "So far, as of now, (it's the) biggest win of the season. We have a great chance of winning the conference championship on Thursday and this just gives us a lot of momentum going into the postseason."
The Wolves (21-4) will have an opportunity to add to their 13-game winning streak and win the Southwest Prairie Conference regular season title outright when Oswego East (12-1 in the SPC) visits Plainfield North (11-13, 8-5) tonight, Thursday, at 7 p.m. in the Wolves regular season finale. Then, the hoopla of the postseason arrives next week, with Oswego East - the No. 5 seed in the Waubonsie Valley Regional - set to take on either No. 12 Batavia (17-7) or No. 21 Glenbard West (3-21) at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday in a regional semifinal.
Some people might point out that Tuesday's outcome could have ended differently had Neuqua Valley senior forward Dwayne Evans, a St. Louis University recruit, played instead of sitting on the bench in street clothes because of a strained Achilles tendon.
Not so, according to Neuqua Valley's head coach.
"Just terrible defense and terrible execution on offense," Sutton said. "It wasn't a lack of Dwayne. If he's on the court, we execute just as poorly and play just as bad on defense."
Neuqua Valley enjoyed a slim 56-55 lead with 3 minutes, 58 seconds remaining after senior forward Kareem Amedu made a free throw. But Harris showed his prolific outside shooting touch and basketball savvy on Oswego East's next possession. With Stocki - who, at 6 feet, 4 inches had a three-inch height advantage on the 6-1 Harris - closely guarding him on the right wing, Harris made a couple crossover dribbles to get the timing of his shot down and drained his seventh three-pointer of the evening to put Oswego East up 58-56 with 3:44 remaining. The Wolves never trailed again.
"I felt I had to get more aggressive than normal," said Harris, who finished 11-of-23 from the field, including 7-of-13 from three-point range and 9-of-10 from the free throw line while grabbing a team-high seven rebounds and handing out a team-best five assists. "We also worked our team into it and everybody stepped up again, and I think that was key to our victory, but I think I had to step up a little more than usual just because (Neuqua Valley is) one of the top teams in the state. That doesn't always mean I have to score 50 or 40 or whatever, but it just means getting it done."
Harris also had help from his backcourt partner in junior guard Wesley Brooks, who finished with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists. He also showed off an impressive outside touch, knocking in four three-pointers, all in the first half, which helped Oswego East take a 23-19 lead at the end of the first quarter and only trail 38-36 at halftime.
"I just kind of looked for the open shot," Brooks said. "I was knocking them down in warm-ups and I was feeling it. Whenever (Harris) would drive or Sean (Gant) would drive, I was just looking for an open spot."
Neuqua Valley took a 44-39 lead with 5:10 left in the third quarter when Amedu - who led the Wildcats with 25 points - scored inside. But the Wolves rattled off a key 10-1 run during the next three minutes, and took a 49-45 lead with 2:23 left in the period after junior forward Derek Drew scored on a drive. Drew and junior forward Marcus Jones came off the bench to provide a second-half spark with starting junior forward Austin Keys plagued by foul trouble against the rugged 6-5 Amedu. Jones, at 5-9, stood eight inches shorter than Amedu but made the senior forward work for his scoring chances.
"I was real proud of both those guys," Oswego East head coach Jason Buckley said. "We put them in some tough spots, with Marcus having to guard Amedu, giving away a foot almost, and did a wonderful job making sure he didn't get any easy touches. All the way around, Derek Drew did just a whale of a job for us."
Jones - who did not score - said the key with Amedu was just staying in front of the big man.
"If they throw it over, the guy behind you will always have your back," he said. "It's just trusting your teammates and having trust in yourself that you can stay in front of them. I would like to score, but I know my best bet to help the team is to come out and play defense."
Neuqua Valley countered Oswego East's third quarter run with an 8-1 spurt to head into the fourth quarter ahead 53-50. The Wildcats led 55-50 following two free throws from senior forward Kyle Pembrook (10 points) with 6:52 left, but a three-pointer from Harris and a baseline drive by Harris knotted the score at 55 with 4:36 to play.
Brooks and Harris combined for 84 percent of Oswego East's scoring on Tuesday night, while junior forward Sean Gant added seven points and four rebounds. Drew and Keys, with two points apiece, were the only other Wolves to enter the scoring column
The Wolves helped themselves immensely by shooting the ball well from three-point range, connecting on 12-of-21 (57 percent) from beyond the arc. That aspect helped negate Neuqua Valley switching its half-court defense from man-to-man to various zone looks, like the 1-3-1 and 2-3 combinations the Wildcats used.
"When a team goes zone on you and you're not knocking down the jump shot and they're rebounding, that's pretty much going to stop them," Harris said. "When we can knock (shots) down, get them out of a zone and get them into a man where we can run our sets (it helps)."
All told, Oswego East finished 21-of-51 (41 percent) from the field, and 14-of-19 (74 percent) from the free throw line. All of Oswego East's free throw attempts came after halftime, and the Wolves only committed nine turnovers, two of which came in the final 16 minutes.
"I thought we really got tougher in the second half," Buckley said.
Neuqua Valley - who also received 11 points from Stocki - shot 23-of-51 (45 percent) from the field, 12-of-19 (63 percent) from the foul line and 4-of-14 (29 percent) from three-point range. The Wildcats committed 12 turnovers, and five came in the fourth quarter.
"It's a good win," Buckley said. "Don't care if it's with or without Evans. It doesn't matter. We'll take a win, especially against a program like that."
Harris echoed his head coach's sentiments about the importance of Tuesday's victory.
"At the end of the day we still got the 'W,'" he said. "I hope Dwayne heals properly, gets his ankle right. But really they can't use that as an excuse. We got it done and the only people that are going to say something like that are haters. I think (people) really should give us our props."
Notes: Harris canned an absurd 11-of-14 three-point attempts last Friday at Plainfield East en route to 44 points, and the Wolves won 77-64. Oswego East led 20-9 at the end of the first quarter, went into halftime ahead 33-24 and led 54-46 to start the fourth quarter. Gant also contributed with 12 points and five rebounds while Drew chipped in with nine points.
-The win last Friday at Plainfield East clinched at least a share of the SPC regular season title for Oswego East. Second-place Oswego was scheduled to face Plainfield East on Wednesday - results were unavailable at press time - and for Oswego East to win the league title outright, the Wolves would either need to beat Plainfield North tonight or have Plainfield East beat Oswego.