By Matt Nestor
For most of the first three quarters, the Jefferson J-Hawks had trouble putting the ball through the hoop in their NIC-10 game against Belvidere North.
Things did not look good entering the fourth quarter down 7 points, but a quick 8-0 Jefferson run gave them the lead, and Jefferson was able to outlast the Blue Thunder in overtime 63-59 to stay undefeated and tied for first place in the conference.
“We clearly did not play our best basketball,” Jefferson coach Todd Brannan said. “But we played good enough to win.”
Both teams were cold for much of the first half. A decent first quarter that saw both teams tied at 13 led to a cold-shooting second quarter that had the game tied at 22 going into the half.
Brandon Schwebke came out for Belvidere North (1-2 NIC-10) in the third quarter, however, determined to shoot his team to victory. The junior, who finished with a game-high 30 points, came out and knocked down several 3-pointers to help the Blue Thunder race out to a 42-35 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“Belvidere North is a lot better than people give them credit for—they execute very well,” Brannan said of the Blue Thunder. “We struggled against the zone in the first half. They’re a difficult matchup for us, and they played their butts off, but so did our kids.”
Once the fourth quarter started, Jefferson’s Mario Manns decided to take the game over. His athleticism bothered the Blue Thunder all game long, and much of his damage came off several key fourth-quarter turnovers that were converted into most of his team-high 17 points.
The main reason the game went to overtime, however, was the inability of the J-Hawks to convert free throws down the stretch. Belvidere North pounded the J-Hawks on the glass, but Brannan said the difference for most of the game was Jefferson’s struggles to convert.
“Their size certainly bothered us a little bit, it’s the biggest team we’ve seen,” he said. “But we’ve got to make free throws. It was our inability to shoot for the first three quarters, and when we get fouled that much, we’ve got to make free throws when we get in those situations.”
Jefferson followed the victory up the next night with a much smoother performance in a 79-48 victory over Chicago North Grand. Mershon Wilkes, who scored 12 in the victory over Belvidere North, had a game-high 27 in the non-conference win.
Despite the two drastically different performances, the most important things for Jefferson is they were wins. Brannan said they still have plenty to work on, but as long as they keep winning, he’ll take them however he can get them.
“It shows the character of our kids,” he said. “We made enough plays. Our defensive intensity got us going a little bit. We struggled from the free-throw line. But like we’ve been preaching all year, the only thing that matters is the final score.”
In other NIC-10 action:
υ The Boylan Titans (4-0 NIC-10) overcame a sluggish start and a 19-15 halftime deficit to out-slug the Hononegah Indians 48-43 in a match-up of conference unbeatens. Armani Flannigan scored 9 of his 14 points in the first half to keep the Titans afloat in the game. Hononegah’s Stanley Moore led all scorers with 16 points. The Indians drop to 3-1 in conference play.
υ Auburn (3-1) bounced back from their first conference loss and finished strong, topping Belvidere 60-46. Anthony Strickland scored 19 points for the Knights. Everett Fitts led Belvidere (1-2) with 13 points.
υ Guilford (1-3) picked up their first conference win against East (0-4), using strong second and fourth quarters in the 63-51 win. Junior Brandon Blankenship torched the E-Rabs, leading all scorers with 25 points for the Vikings.
υ Senior Austin Davis scored 17 points to help lead Freeport (1-3) to their first conference win, 51-48, against the Harlem Huskies (1-3). Bo Andrews led Harlem with 12 points.
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From the Dec. 23-29, 2009 issue