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Spartans use strong finish to get past Plainfield North

PLAINFIELD – Romeoville’s boys basketball team was chasing throughout most of Friday’s Southwest Prairie Conference crossover game at Plainfield North.

The Tigers got off to a quick start and led for nearly all of the first three quarters before the Spartans finally pulled ahead in the 24th minute of the contest.

After seeing a seven-point lead slip away during the last two minutes of the third quarter, North connected on only 4 of 14 shots in the fourth period, while Romeoville kept expanding its lead and finished with a 30-12 run to close the game and capture a 70-59 victory.

Leading the way for the Spartans (10-8, 6-2) was Destin Whitaker, who scored 15 of his game-high 26 points in the final two quarters, with half of his points coming in the final 8:21 of play. He also contributed 11 rebounds.

“We came into this game with a different mindset,” Whitaker said. “We wanted to be more scrappy, more alert and just playing together and we played real good as a team. This is a big win, especially at Plainfield North. We know this is a tough team that has great shooters. We wanted to close on the 3-point shooters and secure rebounds. W could make them play our game and get it down the court, and that was our main focus in the second half.”

Things were looking good for the Tigers (8-5, 6-2) after Blake Ellinghaus (11 points) hit a 3-pointer and Kyle Bragg (nine points) followed with a layup with 2:19 left in the third to make it 47-40. But Romeoville got a jumper from Keedan Foster (11 points) and a 3-pointer from Joseph Adum (seven points) to close to within 47-45.

With 28 seconds left in the third quarter, Whitaker missed his only two free throws of 11 attempts in the game. But the ball rebounded to him and seven seconds later he tossed in a 3-pointer to give the visitors their first lead . They wouldn’t trail again.

Whitaker started the fourth quarter with a slam dunk, and Dakoda Joachim (seven points) gave the Spartans a 57-52 lead with just over four minutes left on a 3-pointer. Whitaker made a layup with 2:45 to go to put Romeoville up 59-55 and later made six straight free throws during a 22-second span where the lead grew from 60-55 to 66-55 with one minute left.

North, which led 19-16 after one quarter and 35-30 at halftime, was led by Cooper Bridges, who scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half and had six rebounds. Colin O’Rourke added eight points and nine rebounds, while Christian Lucas and Carlos Conley both scored five points.

Romeoville also got eight points from Tyler Johnson and seven points and nine rebounds from Trayton Trice.

“Credit to North since it seemed like they couldn’t miss in the first half but in the second half, we wanted try to contest the shots a little bit,” Spartans coach Marc Howard said. “This was our 18th game of the season and this is the first time that we’ve had all of our players on the floor at one time. So they have to try to form some type of chemistry to get better.” This was the first game the Spartans had all their regulars available with no injuries or other issues.

North coach Robert Krahulik was unhappy with a controversial foul called on O’Rourke for pivoting on a rebound. He believed that his sudden absence demoralized the Tigers.

“The one call affected the whole game,” Krahulik said. “They called a foul for him pivoting. That took Colin out of the game with three fouls and they went on a run and we never regained confidence.

“It’s a tough conference, and you have to come ready to play every night and thus far we’ve done that. I loved what my kids did as far as how hard they played. But every game is tough. You have to make shots down the stretch and we were 6 of 24 in the second half.”

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