Coming off a non-conference victory against Nazareth Academy, the Wolves (6-0) opened up conference play in front of a packed student section Friday night with a 68-54 win over Plainfield East (2-2).
The Wolves started the game hot, with a steal and an and-one layup from junior forward Sam Schultz capping an 11-3 run to start the game.
At the end of the first quarter, the Wolves led 19-13.
To start the second, senior guard RayJ Dennis hit back-to-back three-pointers to extend the lead to twelve, when a quick 7-0 Bengal run quickly ended the Wolves momentum. The Wolves responded with a run of their own led by the defense and scoring of senior guard Demari Grant. The Wolves led at halftime 35-28.
Just like the previous two quarters, the Wolves exploded out the break, going on a 9-2 run, but the Bengals responded with an 8-0 run of their own, topped off with a monster putback slam from junior forward Christian Shumate. A putback layup from senior forward Kameron Battle sparked a needed 14-7 run.
The play of the game would happen mere moments later. With seconds left on the clock, Dennis threw an alley-oop from the inbound that was immediately dunked by a high-flying Battle that extended the score to 56-45.
The Wolves moved the ball well in the third, which opened up numerous scoring opportunities to go on those scoring runs. Dennis, the team leader in assists, is most responsible for the exquisite ball movement.
“We had been working on moving the ball in practice all week, and it’s really become a huge part of our offense and tonight it showed,” Dennis said.
To begin the fourth, neither teams could find their stride offensively until a quick 5-0 Bengal run forced Wolves Head Coach Ryan Velasquez to call a timeout with 5:55 left in the game.
“I told the guys [in the huddle] to keep their composure. [Plainfield East] is really good at speeding you up. We had to shorten up our passes, and then take good shots. If we get a defensive rebound, we can’t give the ball right up. Just take care of the basketball, and trust each other, and I think we did just that,” Velasquez said.
The Wolves came out of the timeout refocused, firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, ending the game with an 11-2 run to win the game 68-54.
“[Defense] is a big part of our game. To be able to win games you have to be able to guard. We were able to get some stops in the end and we were all good from there,” Dennis said.
The Wolves improved to a now perfect 6-0 record. But something about this win feels a little different.
Dennis said that getting an early win against someone as good as Plainfield East is vital, especially this early in the season.
“[We] and Plainfield East are up there [as the top teams] in the conference so getting this first huge win is very important,” Schultz said.
Schultz had a breakout game, to say the least, getting a double-double with a team-high 23 points and 16 rebounds. Coach Velasquez said that they really pushed him this week in practice due to the looming matchup against Plainfield East’s Christian Shumate.
“We really challenged Sam this week. [Plainfield East’s Christian] Shumate is a house down there, he’s real athletic, he can get off the floor, and we knew Sam would have to play pretty darn well. Sam responded well and stuck within the gameplan and we saw some really good things and we are hoping that continues,” Velasquez said.
Sam wasn’t happy with his energy in the games prior, so he said he wanted to change that for Friday night’s matchup.
“First five games I hadn’t really played with much energy, but tonight I had this new mindset. A tough opponent, big matchup, I wanted to win it badly, it was personal,” Schultz said.
Whatever that new mindset was, the Wolves are hoping it continues for the remainder of the season.
The Wolves play their next conference game at Joliet West (2-5) on Friday, December 14th, at 6:30 p.m.
Scott Clarke is a sports writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl