PLAINFIELD – Plainfield East was right there. Tied with Joliet Central at 39 midway through the third quarter. Getting points from junior Yamani Shareef and sophomore Christian Shumate.
The Bengals were in the game, seeking in their home and Southwest Prairie Conference opener to knock off the Steelmen after trailing by 10 points late in the first half.
They were still right there, a point behind, after Shumate’s rebound basket with 17 seconds left in the quarter.
And suddenly, they were not there at all. A 15-foot floater by Central’s Cameron Blackmon with eight seconds remaining in the quarter and Cameron Carter’s savvy steal and score with a second left in it gave Central a five-point lead after three quarters and the emotional boost needed to run off with a 72-59 victory.
“I thought that was exceptional, made a difference in the game,” Central’s Don Joachim said. “It shut them down after that.”
“When they came back in the third quarter, it was key that we came right back on it,” Central coach Lawrence Thompson Jr. said. “I’m proud they have the no-quit attitude.”
Joliet Central improved to 4-1, the only setback an overtime loss to Romeoville. Plainfield East fell to 2-4.
The Steelmen scoring was balanced: Ryan Saunders scored 20 points, Blackmon 18 and Joachim 17. If that keeps up and the defense remains stout, Thompson’s team will go far.
“We started off slow, but at halftime we told ourselves we’ve got to pick it up and win this game if we want to be something, if we want to be at the top of the conference in the future,” Joachim said. “I tried to help by dishing it down low.”
“In theory, I’m pleased with everything the kids are doing,” Thompson said. “Even though Blackmon’s the only starter back. Joachim played a little bit last year, but he’s still new to pressure situations. And I’ve got a whole group of juniors there who are finding out varsity experience is not the same as sophomore basketball.”
The Bengals built a 9-4 lead in the first minutes, and Thompson had a theory on why.
“The team that had Joliet Central on their jerseys just thought they could walk out there and get it done,” Thompson said. “We had a little conversation at the first time out to let them know they’ve got to respect the game, respect their opponent.
“Plainfield East played hard, they share the basketball, they’re aggressive on offense. We didn’t do that when the game started.”
The Bengals were led by Shumate’s 18 points, while Shareef had 14. But they combined for only five points in the final quarter, when the Steelmen had a 20-12 edge.
“They’re battle-tested,” Bengals coach Mike Fowler said. “They just wanted it more than we did. And we’ve got some stuff we have to clean up, like defensive rebounds. They were all over us down in the paint.”