By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The script was familiar for Belvidere for a half. Much like their first-place encounter with Rockford Auburn, they held a small lead at halftime despite double-digit turnovers.
This time, however, the Rockford East E-Rabs turned up the pressure, forcing 12 Belvidere turnovers in the second half, 26 for the game, while turning a 3-point halftime deficit into a 63-55 victory to give East sole control of first place in the conference.
“We thought they were playing harder than we were in the first half,” East Head Coach Roy Sackmaster said. “So, we talked about finishing in the second half. We wanted to get the ball out of the net and push them at every opportunity.”
By pushing the Bucs, East hoped to wear them down late in the game and force turnovers, something the E-Rabs were successful in doing.
They were also successful in keeping the ball out of Belvidere point guard Maurice Jackson’s hands, making it tough on the Bucs’ offense.
Jackson did score 10 points, while Joe Byers scored a team-high 21 points. But East made sure to speed up the Bucs’ offense and not allow them to find a rhythm during the contest.
“If we let them walk it up and make it a half-court game, it’s going to be a boxing match — and they are going to beat you,” Sackmaster said. “First half, we weren’t doing that. Second half, we did a better job of pushing it and attacking.”
The other key for East was the play of Isaiah Box.
Box was slowed in the first half, only scoring 3 points while being shadowed by Belvidere’s Darius Brown in a box-and-one defensive setup. The Bucs went away from that setup in the second half because of fatigue, and Box got loose and took over.
The senior point guard scored 23 points, hitting 13 free-throws to help put the game away. Most importantly, he took care of the ball allowing the E-Rabs to take advantage of all the Bucs’ turnovers.
“There were a couple of times he got caught with two guys on him where he would have turned the ball over a few weeks ago,” Sackmaster said. “But he is really starting to take care of the ball better.”
Ultimately, the E-Rabs realize it is important to protect home court, but a one-game conference lead halfway through the season isn’t the end. The current difference in the race is a loss by Belvidere to Rockford Guilford, while East defeated the Vikings.
“The team who does the better job against the teams they should beat will win the conference,” Sackmaster said.
From the Jan. 23-29, 2013, issue