Neuqua Valley boys basketball coach Todd Sutton joked after the Wildcats' 63-44 Upstate Eight Valley win in Bartlett Thursday night that he was a little disappointed with the fact his team allowed 40-plus points for only the fifth time this year.
It seems the kind of wins against East Aurora and Lake Park last week, where both were held to 38 points, are becoming a standard.
"This one's a little upsetting," Sutton cracked. "We didn't keep it in the thirties."
In Neuqua's last five games, the Wildcats have been holding teams to a 38.6 points per game clip. This one looked to be on its way, as Bartlett managed 17 points in the first half and Hawks' star Lance Whitaker was having trouble scoring
The UIC-bound guard was held to just 14 points on 3 of 15 shooting and did not score in the first half. Neuqua (9-0, 5-0) raced out to an 11-3 first quarter lead and led by as many as 13 in the second quarter mostly because of Jabari Sandifer's performance. He finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, nailing 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
"We're definitely a defensive team," Sandifer said. "We get stops and score on transition to easy buckets. We were helping out on Lance a lot, but we had to jump out on their shooters. Coach told us they could shoot really well, we just shut them down from the 3-point line. They didn't score a lot which was good."
Bartlett shot just 14 of 44 for the night. The Hawks (6-3, 3-1) shot 6 of 18 in the first half and did not have answer for anything Neuqua did all night.
"Well we wanted to hold them to single digits in the first quarter, so we really really really couldn't take a possession off our focus," Sutton said. "Our focus, everyone had to be focused every possession the entire quarter and we thought that would give us a good start."
"There's no question we came out flat as a team," Hawks' coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "We've got to do a better job as a team coming out for games like this. A lot of the credit goes to Neuqua Valley, they game-planned real well, they move their feet, they got into position, took away easy driving lanes, really worked hard on our screens to not give us any looks on curls or seals but we've go to do a better job of running our stuff.
"When you're getting down 10, 12 points to a team like Neuqua, you're putting yourself in some bad position."
Neuqua Valley shot 25 of 44 from the field, connecting on 6 of 11 from downtown. Sandifer scored 9 in the first quarter on 3 3s. He'd score 14 of his team's 29 in the first half as the Wildcats shot a 60 percent clip in the first 16 minutes.
"They must not have thought I could shoot it," Sandifer, the Western Illinois recruit, said. "They were giving me wide open looks, so I'm going to take them. I'm glad my shot is back. It's been off lately."
Neuqua's bench was equally good, scoring 29 points with 13 coming from Elijah Robertson. Pat Kenny, who had been dealing with an ankle injury, got cleared to play on the bus and added 10 points.
Bartlett's only other player in double-figures was Marcus Aluquin, who scored 10 points. Bartlett was outrebounded 22-12.