JOLIET – Even though Joliet Catholic never trailed by a point, the girls basketball game felt a lot closer.
It took Nicole Ekhomu’s nine fourth-quarter points for the Angels to outlast Marist, 58-52, in an East Suburban Catholic matchup Monday night.
The under-the-net dominance of junior Andriana Acosta and sophomore Ty Battle throughout the game didn’t hurt, either.
The Angels (16-8) led by as much as 39-24 in the third quarter, but late-quarter turnovers brought Marist back into the game. In the last two minutes of the quarter, JCA turned the ball over five times.
“They penetrated the ball a lot,” Acosta said. “We didn’t have the gap closure that we talked about at halftime. Then we started getting in the gaps and pressuring the ball a lot, which helped us out. They weren’t too good with ball pressure, which helped us come back.”
By the fourth quarter, JCA needed a spark, and Ekhomu rose to the occasion.
One minute into the quarter, she scored on a layup. Less than 30 seconds later, the 5-foot-9 junior got a steal and scored another basket.
“I knew that I had to start scoring,” Ekhomu said. “I really didn’t score a lot in the first half, and the game was still kind of close. I started scoring, then looking for teammates because they started double-teaming me.
“I knew if they were closing in on me, then one of my teammates was open and that they were going to score a basket.”
Ekhomu had a dominating performance throughout and ended with 13 points, eight assists, three rebounds and four steals.
“Nicole is a great player,” Acosta said. “We know that she can score whenever she wants, plus she can helps us score. When she gets the ball she can see, she has a high basketball IQ, which helps us a lot. We were open a lot and she fed us the ball. She’s a great, key player, a key player to our team.”
It was not a one-girl effort throughout, however.
Junior Mia Farrell led JCA with 14 points and added four assists, three rebounds and a steal. Acosta scored 12 points, Battle nine and sophomore Jnaya Walker eight. Junior Kaitlyn Williams rounded out the scoring with two points.
Acosta and Battle also played strong defensive games. Acosta, who at times outrebounded up to three Marist players simultaneously, posted a team-high 10 rebounds. Battle finished right behind with eight. All the Angels in the frontcourt battled hard on the boards, and it was evident.
“We know that we’re not too big of a team, we’re a young team,” Acosta said. “We try as well on defense to get our rebounds. On the offense side, we know we can run the ball a lot. So our mindset is to do good on defense, which today we did great.”
Things are starting to look better for the Angels. In this victory, JCA showed it can play well under pressure and out-hustle teams for a victory.
Ekhomu, who was out with a back injury the first half of the season, said things are starting to flow better than they did early in the season. Of course, her presence is helping spark some of that.
“We are a much better team, especially chemistrywise,” Ekhomu said. “Before I was out and had to come back in. Everyone was in different positions, and we worked on it in practice. Our chemistry is much better now.”