PLAINFIELD -- Joliet West delivered three strong quarters on the road against Plainfield Central on Friday, but that wasn't enough to make up for a dreadful second period that saw the Tigers outscored by 14 points and led to a 64-60 Southwest Prairie Conference loss.
Jamere Hill and West (4-16) hit the ground running in the opening frame to dash out to a 19-13 lead. The Tigers' offense was clicking as they spread the ball around and effectively attacked the rim. Hill led the charge with seven points in the first quarter and had some backup from the rest of the squad. Things were looking up.
Then the second quarter happened.
The Wildcats (12-11) absolutely smothered the Tigers and flipped a six-point deficit into an eight-point lead. Point guard Tavari Johnson's 11-point period helped vault Central forward as it outscored its visitors 17-3 and held Hill to a measly two points.
After using the halftime intermission to treat its whiplash, West bounced back in the second half. Or, more accurately, Hill bounced back.
Hill was electric as he scored 24 of West's 38 points in the second half and shot a perfect 13-for-13 from the free throw line. His heroic second half peaked with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when he knocked down a pair of free throws to finally recapture the lead for the first time since his team's inauspicious second frame.
But he could only do so much and the Tigers' lead proved fleeting as Wildcats senior Maurice McCullum drained a pair of free throws to recapture the advantage for good.
McCullum was huge for Plainfield Central down the stretch. He was 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final minutes and provided excellent stability for the 'Cats in the midst of West's furious push towards a late comeback.
In stark contrast to the Tigers, Central turned in a well-rounded effort on offense that saw four players reach double-digit scoring figures. While West lived and died according to Hill's performance, the Wildcats were able to lean on one another and share the load.
"It was a great team effort. That's four guys in double figures. We played as a team," McCullum said. "The key is playing with each other. We've been together four two years now and with experience you can accomplish a lot.
"It doesn't matter who does the scoring, as long as the ball goes into the basket for the home team. We want to win at the end of the night. That's it. Jamere Hill is a great player who is going to be a problem for every team he goes up against. But for us, this was a team win and everyone did their part."
Tavari Johnson was instrumental in the first half for the Wildcats. He scored 14 of his team-high 16 points before halftime. McCullum also hit double-figures for the home team with 12 points on the night, Brandon Shoemaker added 13 and was clutch in the fourth quarter, as well. Johnson's brother Javari also contributed, scoring 11 points.
For West, it was all Jamere Hill. His 35 points were far and away the most for any player and despite the undesirable ending, his spotless night from the stripe was nothing short of spectacular.
West will be in action next Friday at home against Minooka while the Wildcats will hit the road to take on Oswego East that same evening.