JOLIET – With senior leader Jamere Hill back in the lineup, Joliet West’s basketball team was focused on wrapping up a perfect season in the Southwest Prairie Conference when it hosted Plainfield Central on Monday.
The Wildcats, with nothing to lose and playing with confidence after putting up a good fight against the Tigers in an earlier meeting, used a fourth quarter charge to close their deficit considerably, but West executed well down the stretch to claim a 66-60 victory.
West (25-4, 16-0) used a 12-0 run, which featured eight points from Hill (15 points, five rebounds), to take a 46-27 lead late in the third quarter and still were in front, 46-29, with eight minutes remaining.
But the Wildcats (15-13, 8-8) scored 31 points in the fourth quarter to help them close to within 58-54 with 1:43 left. But they could get no closer, as the Tigers’ Jeremy Fears Jr. (14 points) hit five free throws down the stretch to hold up the lead.
“We knew that they were going to play hard,” Tigers coach Jeremy Kreiger said. “The first time we played, Brandon Shoemaker wasn’t available, so he added another dimension for them. We knew that they were coming in to try to upset the party, and we also knew that 16-0 would sound and feel so much better than 15-1, and they fought us to the end.
“We have to value the basketball, and we know teams will pressure us when we have a lead, and we have to make free throws, but outside of that we have to execute better defensively in the fourth quarter. We knew the pace and tempo would change, but what I loved was that our guys battled through adversity. Building up the lead in the first quarter was so important, since even though they battled back, it was always a two-possession game.”
The Tigers led, 21-9, after one quarter with Fears scoring seven points and Skylar Crudup (nine points) adding six.
But the Wildcats used six points from Tavari Johnson (12 points) and four points from Brandon Shoemaker (16 points, eight rebounds) to close to within 30-21 at halftime.
The Tigers, who also got eight points from Ashawn Burbridge, seven points from Trent Howland and six points from Jaiden Lee, used the big run in the third quarter to open up a 19-point lead.
“I feel like this game was really fun for us,” Hill said. “In our last game we won, it was a kind of a boring game, but this one was fun.”
The Wildcats used eight points each from Shoemaker and Mekhi Lunford (10 points) in the fourth quarter to close the gap to within four points and it remained close after that. Another top scorer for coach Gregg Bayer’s Wildcats was Javari Johnson (12 points).
“I’m a competitor, and I want to win every game, practice, sprint and drill. I just want to win,” Fears said. “They started making a run on us, and I told the team we can’t let up.”