The South Elgin boys basketball team went winless in 12 Upstate Eight Valley games last season under former coach Chaz Taft, but it took only one try for the Storm to break into the win column against Taft and his visiting Waubonsie Valley Warriors Thursday.
Tied with 16 seconds to play, South Elgin emerged from a wild final sequence that featured a missed shot and a turnover by each team -- all played without a stoppage -- to win 74-72 at the buzzer on a putback by senior guard Matt McClure.
"It was a big win for us, especially coming off a rough conference season last year," said McClure, who led the Storm with 17 points. " This is so exciting. Hopefully, we can build off this one."
Waubonsie Valley (2-3, 0-1) rallied from a 65-54 deficit after three quarters to tie the game at 72-72 on a 3-pointer by 6-foot-2 senior guard Jay DeHaan, who came off the bench to lead all scorers with 29 points.
The Warriors got the ball back, thanks to South Elgin's sixth turnover of the fourth quarter. Following a timeout, Taft drew up a play that used DeHaan as a decoy, which left Chris Karkazis one-one-one in the post against McClure. But the shot didn't fall.
South Elgin senior Darius Wells grabbed the rebound along the baseline with 12 seconds left, but he had the ball knocked away by Waubonsie's Matt Gialamas at midcourt. Wells immediately reversed course and stripped the ball right back.
"All I know is I lost it on the floor, the other team had it and I couldn't let it go," Wells said. "I couldn't be talked about at school all day (today). I had to get it back and try to make a play."
"You've got to make a play there," Taft said. "Instead of us trying to dribble the ball, we have to pick up the ball first, then pitch that ball ahead because we had three guys at half court to their one. I thought if we had picked it up instead of trying to dribble it, we could have maybe scored at the other end."
With time running out, Wells passed the ball to sophomore Julian Lynch in the low post. His contested shot didn't fall, but McClure was in the lane for the putback just before the horn. Time expired and the South Elgin student section charged the floor in celebration.
"This was so exciting," McClure said. "I don't know how Darius got that ball back, but he did somehow and he passed it down low to Julian. When his shot came off the rim, I crashed and I just happened to be in the right spot. After that it was crazy."
"We're a young team," said DeHaan, who canned 4 of 5 attempts from 3-point range. "We have to learn from this and not let it happen again."
South Elgin (3-2, 1-0) trailed 21-17 after a quarter but outscored the Warriors 22-12 in the second quarter to take a 39-33 lead. The Storm scored 26 points in the third quarter on 10-of-14 shooting, led by 8 of Wells' 10 points.
However, the Warriors held the Storm to 3-of-12 shooting in the fourth quarter, when South Elgin committed 7 turnovers.
If defeating his predecessor mattered at all to first-year South Elgin coach Matt Petersen, he hid it well.
"I'm not thinking of it that way," Petersen said. "This was just our home opener after we struggled defensively at the Fenton Tournament. We have to keep getting better every game. Defensively, we played a whole lot better than we did when we gave up 94 points to Elk Grove. That's what I'm proud of. It's a 28-game regular season and this is Game 5. If we put so much effort in beating the old coach, we're not taking it for the reason why it's there, to make each of us better."
The Warriors will regroup ahead of Saturday's rivalry showdown.
"We'll learn from it," Taft said. "It was our fifth game of the year. We have Neuqua Valley on Saturday and we've been preparing for them all week as well as South Elgin. We just have to get back in the gym and prepare."