JOLIET – After his Joliet West boys basketball team gave up 30 points in a first half where it trailed most of the way, coach Jeremy Kreiger wanted a better defensive effort in the second half of Friday’s Southwest Prairie Conference crossover against Plainfield North.
And that’s just what the first-year head coach got, as West allowed only three points in the third quarter and nine in the second half to help the the team roll to a 66-39 home victory.
The improved defensive play that led to the comeback in the second quarter helped the state’s eighth-ranked Class 4A team rattle off 23 straight points during a nearly six-minute span of the last two quarters to improve to 17-2 overall and 10-0 in the SPC.
“Giving up nine points in the second half was essentially just what we did to fight back in the latter half of the first half to get the lead to 32-30,” Kreiger said. “We knew that they had one shooter and one tall player who could really affect the game, and in the first half, they did. From there, we got what we like to call consecutive stops and continued to build on it.
“It was the same thing as against Oswego, as we gave up 20-plus points when our goal is to give up 10 a quarter, so we knew we [had] to respond. We told them, ‘Regardless of our offense, don’t allow that to affect our defense.’ To give up nine points in a half is a testament to their willingness to guard and feed off the crowd and bench’s energy.”
Jamere Hill overcame early foul troubles to lead all scorers with 20 points. Nine of those points came during the decisive run, and he also grabbed eight rebounds. Six different players scored during the decisive stretch in the second half.
“We came out real slow, and our shots weren’t falling, but our coach tells us that offense might not carry us, but defense always carries us,” Hill said. “So every day we work hard on defense in practice, and defense is what got us back into this game. We have confidence in all of our teammates because we go hard in practice every day.”
Trent Howland added nine points and eight rebounds, Jeremy Fears Jr. scored eight points, and Tre’Vonta Hall and Jaiden Lee each scored seven points, Terrance Moncrief had five points, and Dakhari Jaudon and Daniel Okogun had four points apiece.
“We have a lot of options, so no matter who goes out, we tell each other to bring the same energy when we come into a game,” Howland said. “When we come out after halftime and gain big leads, it happens if we all bring energy, play defense and run our offense right.”
Colin O’Rourke scored nine of his 11 points in the first quarter to help North (8-7, 6-4) take a 21-17 lead after eight minutes, and it grew to 25-18 one minute into the second quarter.
But the hosts responded with a 14-5 run to close out the half, and other than a 3-pointer by Blake Ellinghaus (11 points), the visitors didn’t score again in the third quarter. Cooper Bridges also added 11 points for coach Robert Krahulik’s team, which lost its third straight.