The second attempt to reach the 20th win of the season fell incomplete again for the Minooka boys basketball squad, as they dropped a tough conference game to the Oswego East Wolves at home Friday night, 58-51, keeping the Indians stuck at 19 wins.
The Indians returned starting point guard Darrin Myers to the lineup Friday night. Seeing his first action since hurting his hamstring, causing him to miss the past two weeks. Myers’ defensive presence helped carry Minooka in the first quarter, as the Indians held Oswego East without a bucket, only allowing two free throws in the quarter. The Indians didn't do much offensively, either, only scoring seven points in the opening frame to take a 7-2 lead after one quarter of play.
“Darrin has done a nice job all year of running our offense, and it’s definitely nice that he was able to come back tonight and look healthy,” Minooka coach Scott Tanaka said.
The second quarter is where the offense would start to pick up, as the Indians quickly jumped ahead 11-2. From there, however, the game turned into the Kenny Battle Jr. show. The senior guard, who is the son of former Northern Illinois and Illinois player Kenny Battle, came off the bench and scored 10 points in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to a 22-21 at the break.
“I just started attacking the basket strong and getting foul calls,” Battle Jr. said. “Luckily, I was able to get to the free throw line and knock down my free throws.”
Battle wasn’t done there, though, as he carried his momentum from the second quarter into the third quarter, where he helped spark a third quarter comeback for the Wolves. Oswego East outscored Minooka 17-8 in the third quarter behind Battle’s 13 points, taking an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Battle finished with a game-high 28 points.
“He did a great job tonight for us,” Oswego East coach Jason Buckley said of Battle’s performance. “He was able to get many open looks on the offensive end, and when he does that, he makes the entire coaching staff look smarter.”
Another key to the third quarter success of the Wolves was the pressure they put on Minooka offensively. The Indians had 10 turnovers in the third quarter alone, which led to many of those easy buckets from Oswego East.
“They did nothing different to us defensively,” Tanaka said. “We just didn’t take care of the basketball, it’s as easy as that. If you don’t take care of the basketball against a well-coached team, you’re going to lose.”
“We’re too athletic to not guard tight to the ball and get into passing lanes,” Buckley said. “Once again, it came back to ball-pressure and making them look for passes where we had a chance to make a steal.”
As the fourth quarter began, the Indians were in rally mode, and started going to senior big man Lavell Dean. Dean, who was held relatively quiet the first three quarters, came out in the fourth on fire, helping the Indians cut the lead to one at 49-48 with just under two minutes remaining. The rally, however, was too little too late, as the Wolves sank their free throws down the stretch to secure the seven-point road victory.
“I thought it was a great team win,” Buckley said. “I felt our energy and enthusiasm was excellent. We came out and defended well. They have a great high-low game, so we had to make sure our big guys guarded them tight. Our execution was great tonight.”
The loss drops the Indians to 19-9 on the season, who have one last shot on Thursday to capture that covenanted 20th win as they’ll battle Plainfield North. If Minooka wins, it’ll be the first time the basketball program has won 20 games since 1977.
“We just try to get better every game,” Tanaka said. “Whether it’s our first win or our 20th win, we just try to get better every day. So it doesn’t matter what that number represents, until we aren’t playing games, we’re going to continue to get better.”