By Matt Nestor
In a game with major implications in the NIC-10 conference standings and the IHSA regional seeding, the East E-Rabs struggled through much of their game against Belvidere North and only led by 1 point after the third quarter.
But after being challenged by Head Coach Roy Sackmaster on the bench, Deontray Austin and Steve McNease took over the game and helped the E-Rabs (14-9, 7-6) pick up a 63-56 victory over the Blue Thunder.
The E-Rabs spent much of the third quarter attacking the offensive glass, but could not convert any put-backs.
After imploring his interior players to step up, Austin hit three straight baskets, and McNease added four straight of his own in the decisive run.
“We needed a lift from somebody,” Sackmaster said. “Alonte Holliday is nowhere near 100 percent. It’s his second game back, but you can see him out there hobbling around on it. Those are our two starting post players, and we needed them to play like it.”
McNease finished with a double-double, leading the team in points with 10 and rebounds with 12. Austin finished with 8 points.
Their efforts helped East overcome a spirited effort from Belvidere North’s Brandon Schwebke and Carl Rapp.
Schwebke, who is one of the best shooters in the conference, did struggle from the 3-point line, going 3-of-11. But he was 2-of-3 from inside the arc, as well as 7-of-9 from the free-throw line, for 20 points to go with his 11 rebounds.
Rapp did pick up some of the shooting slack in the first half for the Blue Thunder (9-14, 6-7). He hit two 3-point shots of his own on his way to 14 points.
For much of the game, it was the Belvidere North defense that kept the E-Rabs off their game. A host of turnovers helped keep the E-Rabs from pulling away during the first three quarters.
“I credit them because their defense was very fundamentally sound, and they were in the right spots,” Sackmaster said. “But a lot of times, we just shot ourselves in the foot with our own decision-making.”
The E-Rabs were not able to keep up their momentum over the weekend. Jajuan Cosby scored 26 points for Guilford (9-15, 5-8), while Holliday re-aggravated his ankle injury in a 77-51 loss to the Vikings.
North also dropped their next game, falling 60-50 to Harlem (10-16, 5-8).