CHANNAHON – When a boys basketball team goes on the road and limits its opponents to only four baskets during a 10-minute span in the final half, it probably will be victorious.
And it was just that type of defensive effort that Joliet West employed in its Southwest Prairie Conference contest at Minooka on Friday and the primary reason that coach Nick DiForti’s squad wound up capturing a 49-43 victory that got interesting again in the late going.
West broke open a 22-all contest by going on a 16-1 run during the third and fourth quarters to eventually build a 43-25 advantage with 6:04 remaining. To the Indians’ credit, they kept battling and managed to get as close as five points back twice during the final minute.
“Especially at this time of the year, when you go on the road in conference against a team like Minooka, it’s always going to be a hard task, and it’s no secret that haven’t been playing our best basketball,” DiForti said. “I thought it was our defense. I don’t know how many turnovers we forced them into, but it was plentiful. We know that their guard play is really solid, and their offense is effective, so we just want to make it as difficult as possible for them to execute any type of offense.
“Roger [Plechaty] had a good game plan defensively. We know they shoot a lot of 3s and hit a lot of 3s, which is what brought them back in the game. So we wanted to run them off the 3 and make them put it on the deck. And when you’re able to play 10 guys and it doesn’t really matter who plays, it’s nice. They obviously had a nice run of their own at the end, but we didn’t rattle. Based on how we’ve been playing, this was probably one of our better games in the past five or six games.”
After getting 11 points in the first quarter from Michael Smith (14 points, five rebounds) to grab an 18-9 lead, the Tigers (8-8, 4-3) only made one basket in the second quarter while the Indians (10-8, 4-3) received four points from both Brandon Hill (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Adrian Gutierrez (eight points) to pull to within 22-20 at the break.
Minooka forced the game’s only tie just over half a minute into the third quarter on a layup from Hill, but West responded with a basket from Smith and then two layups from Darren Williams (12 points) to kick its decisive run.
Following a free throw from Hill, Williams hit a free throw before AJ Woods (seven points) made back-to-back buckets. A 3-pointer from Jayveon Owens (seven points) and a rebound basket from Woods made it 38-23 late in the third quarter.
The Indians ended a drought of 6:18 without a field goal when Michael Fruscione made a layup to get the hosts to within 13 points. But the Tigers expanded their lead to 43-25 in the with 6:04 left following two rebound buckets from Williams and a free throw from Woods.
Although seemingly out of it, Minooka didn’t toss in the towel. It outscored West, 18-6, down the stretch with Keegan Graebner (14 points) collecting nine points during that span.
“We work as a team,” Woods said. “We go hard every day in practice and do whatever the coaches say. We’ve bounced back pretty good from our losses and we’re just going to try to keep this going. I like the coaches and the players on this team, and we’ve all come together.”