OSWEGO – Ikenna Okeke knew what he was up against Friday.
Okeke, Romeoville’s 6-foot-5 senior, was teammates with Oswego East point guard Demari Grant last year at Bolingbrook. He’s played AAU with Wolves star RayJ Dennis, a Boise State recruit.
“RayJ, that’s my guy. Demari, that’s my guy,” Okeke said. “I know those guys. I know how tough they are.”
For a half, Okeke was a freight train that wouldn’t be denied.
He scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half, primarily on aggressive drives to the rim. But not even Okeke could slow down the Wolves.
Dennis scored 25 points, Kamron Battle had 18, and Oswego East led the matchup of Southwest Prairie Conference leaders wire-to-wire to win, 71-58, in Oswego.
“It was a big game, It was conference, we were both tied, and we came out on top at our home place,” said Battle, who shot 7 for 12, grabbed nine rebounds and hit two 3-pointers. “We brought it tonight.”
Mike Salter scored 16 points, eight coming in the third quarter, and Destin Whitaker 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter for Romeoville (11-4. 2-1). Sam Schultz added 12 points and Grant 10 for Oswego East (13-3, 3-0).
In an entertaining first quarter, Salter beat the buzzer with a fadeaway 3-pointer, pulling the Spartans within 20-17.
Okeke was a force throughout.
He had a strong drive through the Wolves defense for Romeoville’s first score, and had a putback for a three-point play.
In the second quarter, he exploded to the goal two more times for powerful finishes at the rim. He soared in once for a strong follow.
“I was being really aggressive, trying to go in as far and as hard as I can, trying not to force anything,” Okeke said. “That’s my mindset every game, is to try to come out and bring my best for the team.”
Okeke never settled for a jumper, and it wasn’t by accident.
“That’s my game; I’m still working on my shot,” Okeke said. “Game time, I do what I do best, try to get to the basket. If I get fouled, try to go to the line.”
Okeke and Noah Ferrell baskets cut an 11-point Oswego East led to 32-27, but Dennis knifed through the Romeoville defense for a finger roll at the first-half buzzer.
Dennis, an ultra-smooth 6-foot-2 guard, took over after the break.
He scored eight of his 26 in the third quarter, twice dropping in nifty fadeaways on the baseline. Battle’s tomahawk dunk, off a turnover, made it 57-41.
“Ray J, he’s one of the best guards in the Midwest, I really respect him,” Okeke said. “He’s always been smooth like that, it’s not like it just came.”
Oswego East did a much better job containing Okeke in the second half – and, importantly keeping him out of the lane.
“When he gets downhill he’s tough to stop,” Wolves coach Ryan Velasquez said. “We told the guys it can’t be just one guy. Bad things happen when the ball gets in the paint. When he got the ball he wasn’t missing.”
Ferrell added 11 points and six rebounds for Romeoville. Okeke noted that the big takeaway from this game has nothing to do with scoring.
“Defense, help-side defense, we need to play defense as a team,” Okeke said. “Stop hugging on our man, get in the lane, we’ll take giving up a jump shot over a layup.”