NEW LENOX – Coming off one tough conference game while preparing for another, Joliet Catholic boys basketball coach Joe Gura was understandably concerned about how his team would perform in Tuesday’s nonconference contest at Lincoln-Way Central.
But after the Hilltoppers jumped out to a quick 15-2 advantage and extended their lead to 16 points early in the second quarter, most of their coach’s fears were eased.
JCA grabbed a 34-14 halftime lead and never let the Knights get any closer than 18 points during the second half as it went on to capture a 57-36 victory.
“We were on the road on a Tuesday night sandwiched between two unbelievably tough games,” Gura said. “You worry about are we going to have energy and what are the guys thinking? Is there any hangover from Friday and any looking forward to this Friday? We talked about execution and energy – and we had energy, and we also executed real well.
“We know what we have ahead of us, so we have to get better in each game. The biggest thing for us is that we’re young, and I like that. What we’re doing better is understanding how to play like a team. We play pretty good basketball and run decent stuff; but it’s the nuances of the game, and we’re starting to get that – and to me, that’s everything.”
The Hilltoppers (11-9) received baskets from four players to grab the early, 13-point advantage. Jalen Jackson, who scored a game-high 25 points, got scoring started with a 3-pointer and ended the run with a layup.
After Central (3-11) closed to within 16-5 at the first break, Jackson scored four of team’s next five buckets, including three 3-pointers. He finished the opening half with 17 points, which was three more than the hosts had scored by halftime.
“We had some great looks in the first half, and we knocked them down,” Jackson said. “These last two years have helped us to become the team that we are, and our chemistry is at another level from where it was last year. We’re showing progress, and you never want to take a step back. The thing that I like is when we play unselfishly. When we do that, we’re a hard team to stop since it puts a lot of pressure on the other teams’ defense.”
JCA also received 12 points from Harold Davis, while Drake Fellows added eight points and 10 rebounds and Pete Ragen had six points and eight rebounds. The Knights got 10 points apiece from Chris Robinson and Mike Koszela, while Mitch Kwasigroch added six points.
While JCA’s fast start was just what Gura was hoping to see from his team, it also pretty much guaranteed another frustrating evening for Central coach Bob Curran.
The early deficit was too much to overcome for the youthful Knights; but to their credit, they continued to battle throughout the remainder of the game.
“Our youth has really shown by our inconsistency,” Curran said. “In the first quarter, we had nine turnovers, and we didn’t play very good defense. To their credit, Jackson made shots, but we have to know who the best player on the court is and stop him a little bit better. But our kids did a good job of playing with pride in the second half.”