PLAINFIELD – It isn’t every day that both teams come away from a basketball game feeling good about what they accomplished.
Romeoville’s visit to Southwest Prairie Conference foe Plainfield East on Friday night provided an exception.
The Spartans, who share the league lead with Joliet Central, shook off a 33-27 halftime deficit and posted a 75-68 victory over the young Bengals, who might have taken a giant step forward themselves.
Romeoville (15-3, 7-0) scored 48 second-half points with Mike Salter and Eddie Creal scoring 14 apiece. Creal finished with 18 in all and Salter closed with 14. Salter was scoreless in the first half, when he played sparingly because he picked up two early fouls.
In addition, the Spartans, after committing 13 first-half turnovers, committed only three in the second half, when they also outrebounded East, 24-14, to finish with a 36-27 advantage.
The Bengals (10-7, 4-3), who have only two seniors (one in the regular rotation), ended the first half on an 11-0 run that produced deafening noise levels from the home crowd. But after hitting only 1 of 10 shots from 3-point range in the first half, they missed all five attempts in the third quarter, when Romeoville turned its six-point halftime deficit into a 53-45 lead.
East never quite caught up in the fourth quarter, getting no closer than 59-55 with 5:14 left, but the Bengals never surrendered.
“I told the guys not to hang their heads,” said East coach Mike Fowler, whose team had to come right back and play two games Saturday in the Wheaton Warrenville South MLK Tournament. “I thought our effort was better tonight than Tuesday night when we beat [Plainfield] South by 16. We went toe to toe with one of the top teams in the state.”
“Those kids fought hard,” Romeoville coach Marc Howard said of the Bengals. “They were very prepared. Coach [Fowler] did an excellent job having them ready to play.
“But this is something we are used to. We expect a challenge every night. That’s what my assistants, James Foster and my brother Ken, told the team at halftime. No one is not motivated to play us.”
Senior guard Khalil Blakney came off the Romeoville bench and scored 11 points to go with five rebounds. Senior guard Deandre Heckard chipped in 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“Blakney and Salter talked to the team at halftime, and Creal and Heckard were poised on the court, too,” Howard said. “Those four veterans really stepped up. They dug down deep and gutted it out. Our leaders took a big step forward.”
“Coach told us at halftime that if we were going to win, we had to play hard as a team, and we had to play good defense,” Blakney said. “We turned up our intensity, played harder on defense and pressured more. We needed this win.”
Salter was not the only Spartan with foul issues. Destin Whitaker played precious little and wound up fouling out with 5:14 left. In situations such as that, Blakney becomes all the more valuable.
“We feel we have six starters with Khalil one of them,” Howard said.
“I just try to fit in and play my role and find the open guys,” said Blakney, who always provides energy that does not necessarily show up on a stats sheet.
Junior Yamani Shareef paced East with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting and connected on four 3-pointers, three in the fourth quarter to help keep things interesting, Junior Collin Reed battled the Spartans inside and closed with 15 points and eight rebounds. Noah Woulard scored nine and Mylan Walters eight.
“Yamani and Collin were excellent tonight, especially Collin,” Fowler said. “He did good work inside. We have to get to the basket and not be afraid.”
The Bengals were hurt from the free throw line, going 3 of 8 in the fourth quarter and 9 of 19 overall.
“We had some opportunities where we didn’t convert,” Fowler said. “It’s a process we are going through, and I hope we move forward from here.
“I told the kids, it’s not easy to be good. Good teams can duplicate this kind of energy and effort, and a lot of teams can’t do it. I hope we can start doing it every night.”