JOLIET – The task at hand was pretty straightforward for Joliet West’s boys basketball team when it met up with Chicago’s Harlan Community Academy in Friday’s final game of pool play in their own Tiger Thanksgiving Classic.
If the Tigers could hand the 2-0 Falcons their first defeat in the tournament, then the hosts would be assured of facing 3-0 Brother Rice in Saturday’s championship game.
But there quickly was one problem with that plan as Harlan jumped out to a 10-0 lead less than four minutes into the game and West was forced to chase it for most of the rest of the contest and thanks to 31-of-36 shooting from the free-throw line, the Falcons picked up a 73-60 victory.
West (1-2) wound up with a game against Crete-Monee as the final day’s play had to be reshuffled in order to avoid a matchup between Southwest Prairie Conference opponents Plainfield South and West.
To the Tigers’ credit, they were able to overcome a 20-6 deficit early in the second quarter to take their only lead at 42-40 with 1:16 left in the third quarter. But the Falcons benefited from a big foul disparity to help them collect 29 fourth-quarter points, with 18 of those being free throws, as they pulled away from coach Nick DiForti’s team in the late going.
“When you’re down to start the game, it’s hard to come back, period,” DiForti said. “You burn a timeout when you don’t want to and then you really have to focus a lot more at an early stage in the game. But the positive from that is that we won the second and third quarter, which is interesting, but at the same time, they scored 29 in the fourth. And when you go 31 of 36 on free throws, they sealed the victory the way that you seal a victory.
“We’re young and inexperienced, and it showed sometimes, but we also showed that we can make those big plays, and our defense was sound, but overall, it was a good game for Harlan, [which is] a pretty well-coached team. Nobody likes to lose, but the kids’ spirits are fine, and we’ll back. We haven’t played a bad game. Our record just shows that we’re 1-2. So collectively, we have to put four quarters together, which is a problem for a lot of teams just like ours, but that day will come, hopefully sooner than later.”
Harlan used four 3-pointers to help it claim an 18-6 lead following one quarter. After trailing by 14 points early in the second quarter, the Tigers got back in the game by utilizing an 11-0 run that featured two layups from Jamere Hill (14 points, eight rebounds) and a 3-pointer by Trent Howland (15 points) to close to within 22-20 with 3:17 left in the half.
But the Falcons, who were led by LaShaun Glover (18 points), Ryan Robinson (13 points), D’Carius Davis
(11 points) and Eddie Niles (11 points), responded with seven straight points to go up, 29-20, and still owned a 31-25 advantage at the intermission.
Midway through the third quarter, West started a 12-2 run which featured two 3-pointers from Kevon Dorris
(10 points) and rebound buckets from Hill, Jaiden Lee (eight points) and Howland to go up, 42-40, but Harlan answered to take a 44-42 lead into the final quarter.
After falling behind, 56-47, with 4:32 remaining, West closed to within 60-58 with 1:22 left following a 3-pointer from Tre’Vonta Hall and a three-point play from Dorris, Harlan scored 13 of the final 15 points, with all of but two of those being free throws. Glover scored all of his 18 points in the final half with all but two coming in the fourth quarter.