JOLIET – The Joliet Junior College men’s basketball team got off to a red-hot start in Wednesday night’s North Central Community College Conference opener against Rock Valley at Wills Gymnasium.
Unfortunately, the Golden Eagles matched the Wolves point for point, and with 9:17 left in a whirlwind 10-plus minutes, the game was knotted at 29-29.
From that point, however, the Wolves (14-3, 0-1), who are ranked seventh in the NJCAA Division III, found a lid on the basket. Rock Valley (13-4, 1-0), ranked No. 9, managed a 38-32 halftime lead, and except for a few fleeting moments in the second half, the Golden Eagles led the rest of the way en route to an 81-74 victory.
“The difference to me was their execution,” JJC coach Joe Kuhn said. “There also were some spots where our lack of execution hurt us. In that lull in the first half, there were places where we missed some point-blank shots.”
The lull Kuhn mentioned was a stretch of more than seven minutes, when the Wolves scored one point in falling behind, 38-30. They finished shooting 41 percent on 29 of 70 while Rock Valley closed at .560 on 28 of 50.
“A big thing was we had zero offensive rebounds in the first half, and they had four,” Kuhn said. “And we had some turnovers in transition that were not forced. They always say every unforced turnover is worth a point, and we must have had five of them. That’s five points right there. That could have been the difference in the game.”
JJC went on a 9-0 run early in the second half as Mitch Kwasigroch scored from inside, Richie Elias hit a 3-pointer, Rob Blissett turned his own steal into a layup, and Kwasigroch scored a layup off a Blissett assist. That run gave the Wolves a 42-41 lead with 16:12 left.
Kwasigroch, who led the Wolves with 15 points while Clint Berhow had 14, Blissett 13, Elias 10 and Robbie Brooks nine, scored on a rebound to put JJC back ahead, 43-42. The game was tied at 45 and then at 47 with 12:56 left, and Rock Valley never trailed again.
JJC was within 65-62 with 3:33 to go, but a 6-0 Golden Eagles’ run made it 71-62, and for all practical purposes, it was over.
“They played well defensively against us, but I don’t know if they are that good of a defensive team,” Kuhn said. “It was easy for them to defend us because we weren’t moving the ball. We didn’t get the ball to the other side all night.”
The Wolves continue on the tough N4C grind Saturday afternoon when visiting Madison Area.
“The thing we talked about in the locker room was the pain we are feeling now,” Kuhn said. “Will it force us to improve our team game? That’s what we need to have happen.”
Rock Valley got 21 points from forward Jace Kitchen. Alec Pena added 13. Post player DeMari Davis scored four straight baskets in a five-minute span down the stretch and finished with 11. Point guard Malique Ross, a freshman from Oswego, also had 11 to go with five assists.
“Ultimately, we will have to beat these guys in the playoffs,” Kuhn said.