By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
A week ago, things could not have looked much better for the Rockton Hononegah Indians boys’ basketball team. They sat undefeated in NIC-10 play and watched as the Rockford Boylan Titans, whom the Indians knocked off at Boylan earlier in the season, knocked off the only other undefeated team in the conference in Rockford Auburn.
In first place alone, things were lining up well for Hononegah. And that is when their opening weekend of play in the new year happened.
It started on a Friday against Freeport on the road. The Indians struggled mightily on offense, missing shot after shot and giving the Pretzels a chance to hang around.
Behind the brilliant play of junior guard Giovanni Offard, the Pretzels pulled off the upset, leaving Hononegah with an inexplicable 45-44 loss to ninth-place Freeport.
It was a tough loss for Hononegah, and one that left them in a three-way tie for first place with Boylan and Auburn. A tough loss to overcome, but one that could be easily erased the next night.
The Indians followed up one loss with another. Against the helter-skelter style of Belvidere North, the Indians dropped another game, this time 79-75, to the Blue Thunder. That loss dropped the Indians to a tie for second place with Belvidere.
Each loss was an indicator of some potential problems for Hononegah as the season progresses forward. These could be isolated incidents that are looked back upon comically as the Indians win a conference title. But they could also point to bigger problems.
Against Freeport, it displayed what could happen to the Indians on an off night offensively. For a young and growing team, Hononegah executes its half-court sets almost flawlessly.
But, unlike some of the top teams in the conference, Hononegah does not have a go-to scorer. They play well as a team, but if the shots are not falling, they don’t have anyone who can pull them out of the fire.
Boylan has Brock Stull, Auburn has Laytwan Porter and Antoine Pittman, Belvidere has Joe Byers and Maurice Jackson. Even Freeport has Offard, who was able to lead the Pretzels to victory in a tight game. Hononegah does not yet have anyone who has stepped up as the person who can bring the victories home.
The Belvidere North loss showed some cracks in the Hononegah defense. Some of that has to do with the Blue Thunder’s style of play. When they are shooting well, they can make even the best defenses look bad.
But coming off a tough run over the holidays and a loss the night before to Freeport, it was a bit disconcerting to see them give up so many points in yet another loss.
All this said, last season’s conference champion, Belvidere, lost early in the season last year to last-place Rockford Guilford for their only conference win of the year. This could be a bump in the road in a wonderful season. The Indians still have that road win over Boylan to hang their hat on.
But it can’t be too exciting, having seen Boylan knock off Auburn and Belvidere, and knowing that games with Belvidere and Auburn still remain on the horizon for Hononegah.
All this past weekend did for the NIC-10 was make it wide open once again. Boylan and Auburn are now in first, while Belvidere, Rockford East and Belvidere North now all have new life to get back into the conference.
But for Hononegah, this past weekend suddenly has them on the defensive, looking for a chance to make a statement to thrust themselves back into the conference title picture.
From the Jan. 15-21, 2014, issue