By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The Rockford East E-Rabs did not have an enjoyable holiday break.
They watched one of their top big men, Tony Evans, get hurt and followed that up with three straight losses at the tournament they participated in.
The new year brought good tidings for the E-Rabs, however, as they went back into NIC-10 play at Belvidere North and rebounded their way to a 65-52 victory over the Blue Thunder to move to 4-1 and a three-way tie for first place.
“I’m pretty happy with the way we bounced back from the adversity we went through over the break,” East Head Coach Roy Sackmaster said. “Tony getting hurt and three tough losses. Any time you get a road win in this conference, you’ll take it, and it keeps pace with the top of the conference.”
East got off to a quick start by attacking the offensive glass. Senior Austin Young scored 4 quick points on offensive rebounds on his way to a 9-point, 12-rebound game. Fellow senior Devion Smith scored 15 first-half points on his way to 27 points and eight rebounds.
In total, the E-Rabs outrebounded Belvidere North 39-22 for the game, with Jontrell Robinson adding another six rebounds on his way to 11 points.
Another key for East was their defensive pressure. They played full-court, trapping defense most of the night, which helped lead to 18 Blue Thunder turnovers, which included seven steals from Isaiah Box.
“We work on defense a lot in practice,” Smith said. “We always work on trying to stop the ball.”
Belvidere North did make a late run. After East had pushed their lead to 14, Devan Glenn almost shot the Blue Thunder back into the game.
Glenn, who scored 15 first-half points, scored a quick 5 in the fourth quarter, finishing with 20 points. North got the lead down to 7 with several chances to cut the lead more as a result of East turnovers, before finally succumbing to the East pressure.
“I think some of our guys wore down a little bit,” Sackmaster said. “I tightened the rotation a little more than normal. I like to go 10 deep, but we have to go with the guys who are being productive.”
That win helped East get into a three-way tie for first place. Earlier in the week, Belvidere knocked off Boylan for the first time since 1988 to move to 4-1 in the conference, while Auburn also held on to knock off Freeport to keep pace.
While Boylan sits a game back, Rockton Hononegah also sits a game back. After suffering the tough season-ending loss of Jacob Doyle, the Indians were able to knock off Machesney Park Harlem as they work to change their identity.
Jefferson bouncing back into conference race
After winning the Harlem Summer League, the young Rockford Jefferson J-Hawks had high hopes for the NIC-10 season. Three early losses did a lot to cool their expectations.
But the J-Hawks picked up two road wins over the weekend that has them two games back in the NIC-10 race and hoping to get a chance to make a run before the season is over.
“We did start off rough,” Jefferson Head Coach Todd Brannan said. “We’ve been in a lot of tough games and a lot of close games that haven’t gone our way. We’re trying to focus on execution, getting good shots, rebounding and stopping the drive.”
Sophomore Antoine Pittman and senior Jared Mayes are looking to make sure it happens.
Against Rockford Guilford in a 69-51 win, Pittman scored 19 while Mayes added 16. They followed it up in a 75-44 win over Harlem the next night, where Pittman added another 16, and Mayes scored 15 more.
The J-Hawks shot the ball extremely well over the weekend, thanks mostly to great ball movement and patience getting open shots. And with the shooters the J-Hawks have, open looks are easy points.
“We shared the ball tonight, probably the best we have all year,” Brannan said after his team beat Harlem. “We’re pretty fun to watch when we share the ball like that.”
The other thing Jefferson did was defend. They held Guilford, one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the conference, to four threes, while making Harlem’s Justin Vanwambeke score his toughest 20 points of the season.
“He was our No. 1 priority,” Brannan said of Vanwambeke. “He got 20 points, but he had to work really hard. We had to stop the penetration of the other kids, and we did. We didn’t get into foul trouble.”
All in all, if the J-Hawks can keep up this kind of pace, even in the toughest NIC-10 in years, they may be able to work themselves right back in to the championship picture.
“We hit open shots,” Brannan said. “We were able to find the open man. We did a good job of recognizing when someone got hot and kept going to him. We’re just trying to get better.”
From the Jan. 9-15, 2013, issue