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Tigers pull away from Bengals in second half

PLAINFIELD – Friday’s Southwest Prairie Conference East Division boys basketball game between Joliet West and Plainfield East was much tighter through the opening half than some might have expected, considering the teams’ records.

Despite the fact that West hadn’t lost yet and East only had one win to its credit, the host Bengals were able to hang tough and only trailed 31-27 at halftime.

But things changed in the final half as the Tigers shot well from the floor and free-throw line and dominated on the boards, while East struggled with its shooting, and that helped the lead to expand to as much as 21 points before West claimed a 72-56 victory.

Coach Jeremy Kreiger’s Tigers won their sixth straight to already exceed last season’s win total, while coach Mike Fowler’s Bengals lost their fourth in a row.

Leading West was Ashawn Burbridge, who came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points with 10 rebounds. Others who scored in double digits for the Tigers were Jamere Hill (19 points, eight rebounds), Jaiden Lee (12 points) and Jeremy Fears Jr. (10 points).

“I thought in the third quarter, when we had to go with our big lineup of Hill, Burbridge, [Dakhari] Jaudon, Lee and [Trent] Howland, that was the difference. We held them to nine third quarter points and we were able to run, which is our formula for success, Kreiger said.

“I mentioned to Coach Fowler in the handshake line that they had an awesome game plan to go with a 1-3-1, which wasn’t anything that we’ve seen, but we understand that people are going to try to slow us down. But there’s no scouting report for good, sound man-to-man defense and if we can do that on the road we can wear them down by the fourth quarter and we have the horses that we can hit the break stretch and open up a game.”

West (6-0, 2-0) connected on 12 of 20 attempts from the floor (.600) in the second half, while East (1-5, 0-2) only made good on eight of 27 attempts (.296).

The Tigers made all 16 of their free throws, with Hill going 8 for 8, and had 33 rebounds to more than double the hosts, but they also turned the ball over 24 times while the Bengals had 15 turnovers.

The Tigers led by as many as 12 points in the third before settling for a 43-36 lead with one quarter remaining. But with Fears hitting two 3-pointers and a pair of free throws, West was able to build up a 61-41 lead that never got any closer than the final margin.

“At the beginning of the game, we started off with turnovers, but at halftime, we went in the locker room and talked about it and came back out and executed and got everything done and came out with the win,” Lee said. “Most of the guys can do anything with the ball, so I think we can go far.”

The Bengals were led by Nicholas Smoldt, who came off the bench to score 17 points. Other top scorers for East were Joshua Uju (seven points), Jacob Rodriguez (six points), Kobe Reed (six points) and Toby Onyekonwu (six points).

“Our game plan coming out was good and we executed in the first half,” Fowler said.

“I told them in the locker room that we were right where we wanted to be. But after the game, I let them know that you have to be on point with everything you do for four quarters against a team like that. Sooner or later, we hope to play four quarters and close a game out.”

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