PLAINFIELD – Being able to win close games is important for a boys basketball team that has as many newcomers as it does returning players, especially early on.
That applies to both Plainfield North and Joliet West, who opened Southwest Prairie Conference play Friday for a clash of Tigers in Plainfield.
North followed up on its one-point win at Lockport with another victory in a game that went down to the wire and won its third in a row in the process by beating West, 56-52.
After West (2-4, 0-1) tied it at 52 with 57 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Tre’Vonta Hall (16 points), North moved in front for good with 37 seconds to go when Christian Lucas (eight points) made a three-point play.
After West missed a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, North got a free throw from Cooper Bridges (nine points) with five seconds remaining to ensure the win.
“We’re starting to play better defense and executed our game plan, but unfortunately, a lot of their 3s were based off that, so we had to change in the fourth quarter because they were hitting 3s,” North coach Robert Krahulik said. “Offensively, we got good looks and the guys did a good job of running motion. In the first half, we had trouble handling the ball, but in the second half we did a much better job.
“We’re a pretty good team when we get balance like this. From the Thanksgiving tournament, we’ve improved a great deal. These guys are gritty and really want to win badly. These are tough games and in the last couple, we found ways to win down the stretch. Once our defense gets to where it needs to be, we’ll be really good.”
West took a 39-38 lead into the final quarter and was up, 46-44, with 5:55 left after a 3-pointer from Jaiden Lee (10 points), But Colin O’Rourke (12 points) made two baskets to give North a 50-47 advantage.
“I live for plays like that and was glad I was able to knock it down,” Lucas said. “We have very versatile players, so once everyone starts looking for each other, we’ll be hard to stop. We’ve been working on and preaching a lot about defense. I love this team. They’re my brothers, and we go hard in practice and hang out, and we’re best friends off the court.”
In the first quarter, West took an 18-13 lead as Hall scored eight points. But O’Rourke collected eight points in the second quarter to help North moved ahead, 26-25, at halftime.
Carter Thurman (15 points) led the hosts in scoring while Jamere Hill (eight points) and Trent Howland (seven points) were other top contributors for West.
“You only play every team in conference once this year, so every game is a must-win since it’s our goal to win conference,” Thurman said. “We took this game very seriously, and they were a good opponent, and they shot very well, so we had to make adjustments. Tonight was a team win, and we all played well, and everyone contributed in different ways.”
West coach Nick DiForti, who was North’s coach for five seasons, has seen plenty of improvement from the start of the season and is optimistic about the future.
“For the first conference game and being on the road with a young team, we played a lot better than we have in past games,” DiForti said. “Offensively, we did a lot of things that we wanted to do against their defense, and were able to hit the 3. One of our focuses was to defensively run them off of the 3, and we did a good job of that, but they took it to the basket. We’re getting better, and the kids know that, so it hurts to lose that way, but at the same time, we’ve made such strides. Hats off to Plainfield North, it was a good game.”