After starting their season with two straight losses, the East boys’ varsity team had been on a little bit of a tear, going 12-2 since with only one conference loss. Throw in the fact that the team continued to get healthier, the team was set up for future success. Sadly for the Wolves, that success momentarily came to a halt with their 62-57 Friday night loss to Joliet West.
“We need to see the best look from everyone on the team to simulate the type of challenge we get from a team like West. It just ultimately takes figuring out the film and breaking it down with simulated looks in practice and finding weaknesses,” senior guard Grayson Goetz said about preparing for Joliet West.
Friday night provided the toughest test yet as the team faced Joliet West at home. Joliet West has been on an absolute tear this season, and their success has led them to be ranked 12th in the state of Illinois. It was a close, back-and-forth game for all four quarters, but in the end it was Joliet West who was able to pull away.
“They’re a really talented group and we knew we were going to have our hands full, but I feel like we can play with anybody,” head coach Ryan Velasquez said after the game. “We get some stops down at the end, make some layups and free throws, and that could have gone out way. So we just have to learn and grow from it.”
East carried their positive momentum into Tuesday night’s win over Plainfield Central into the start of the game, as senior big man Rithik Ganesan scored the first four points for the Wolves. During a back-and-forth first quarter they at one point even scored six straight points to give the Wolves a 13-7 lead. The quarter then concluded with the home team leading 17-12.
“Seeing those first couple of baskets fall always feels good especially when you know the whole game is going to be a challenge against a good team like Joliet West. It definitely gave us a boost to start the game,” Ganesan said.
The second quarter was more of the same, with both squads trading baskets and then one big scoring run by East. With the half winding down, the home team went on an 8-0 run, largely in part to senior guard Jalen Tucker’s contributions. The half ended with the underdog Wolves leading by a score of 29-22.
The third quarter was where things really started to change though. Joliet West quickly closed the gap with good defense and some big three point shots. The Wolves only scored nine points during the third, as they were unable to capitalize on some scoring opportunities. They headed into the final quarter down 38-36.
“Going into the half we definitely had controlled the half and played it into our game. In the second half, multiple things went wrong, but we really let the game slip into the type of game Joliet West wants to play,” Goetz said. “We let them speed us up a bit and take early shots in our possessions which helped them to get running and get momentum and it’s hard to stop a team like that when they’re feeling it.”
The final eight minutes for the Wolves saw them at one point tie the game, but like in the third quarter, Joliet West once again hit some big three pointers and led 55-48 with two minutes to go. As the student section all filed out early, the clock wound down and the game ended in a 62-57 final score.
“I feel like [the loss] was a mix of not being able to stop their scorers and losing one of our main scorers. Our confidence is still high though and we know that we can play with anyone and we are not going down easy,” junior guard Antonio Hughes said.
One of the big takeaways from the game was the inability to hold the Joliet West offense in the second half, as they were outscored by 12 over the final two quarters. Tightening that up will be key over the rest of the season.
“Our defensive breakdowns mainly led to us losing the lead,” Ganesan said. “We need to focus on playing defense together as a team, especially when we start going through stretches when we’re down.”
Despite the loss, East still has had a good season especially when you take into consideration the roster turnover from last year to this year. As the season continues on and the new starters get more time together, their game should only improve.
“These guys are a hard working group and they come ready to practice everyday. They’re a little down right now because this is a game that we wanted to win, but we got a quick turnaround,” Velasquez said.
The Wolves will get another crack at a home victory when they take the floor on Tuesday night versus Plainfield South. The game starts at 6:30 p.m.
Ben Schmidt is the Sports Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl