JOLIET – Being such a young team, Joliet West's boys basketball team knew that it had its hands full with highly-touted Oswego East, who has multiple college prospects.
The Tigers played tight for three quarters before the Wolves pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 73-56 Southwest Prairie Conference victory at Joliet West on Friday.
“Our kids battled to the end. We’re young. We played three sophomores,” West coach Nick DiForti said. “They have a lot of talent and experience because a lot of them played together last year.”
After trailing by three at the half, West opened the second half on a 7-0 run and also led by three late in the third quarter. Jamere Hill scored six of those seven points en route to 15 points. Hill was a spark plug for the Tigers, something his coach says is the standard.
“Jamere being our point guard is one of our leading rebounders. We ask him to do a lot,” DiForti said. “That was very much the type of game he always plays. He is our floor leader, a captain and he’s still only a junior.”
Sophomore Jaiden Lee showed flashes of excellence as he led the Tigers with 16 points after nailing four three-pointers.
Despite the solid performances from Lee and Hill, Oswego East (7-1, 2-0) turned up the pressure defensively and went on a 21-1 run spanning into the fourth quarter. Several Joliet West turnovers turned into layups and dunks for the explosive Wolves.
The Tigers (2-7) never fully recovered from the momentum swing of the run which opened up a 17-point lead for Oswego East. Hill was able to cut the Wolves’ lead to 11 late, but West couldn’t muster a comeback.
“It was a lot of small little things coupled into them being the team they are and how they play converting those (turnovers) into about an eight-point stretch,” DiForti said. “From there we had to play catch-up. We had to play out of character, a lot faster and gamble a little bit.”
One major reason for the energy increase was Oswego East’s Ray J. Dennis, who took over the game in the fourth quarter after Joliet West held him in check the rest of the contest. The Boise State-bound Dennis scored 16 points in the game’s final quarter including nine points in the aforementioned 21-1 run for the Wolves.
“Ray J. is a special player,” Oswego East coach Ryan Velasquez said. “He really understands the game of basketball. He can handle pressure and has an ability to score and defend. He’s a leader and a special player.”
While the result wasn’t what DiForti wanted, he was proud of the way his team hung tough against a talented opponent.
“We’re disappointed in the loss but we’re not disappointed in the way our kids played,” DiForti said. “They played their hearts out and didn’t quit.”
The Tigers will take on rival Joliet Central on Thursday.
“We’re at a little skid here, but with it being Joliet Central we can throw out the record books, because it’s a pretty big game,” DiForti said.