In recent years a 10-point deficit might prove demoralizing to the West Chicago boys basketball team.
This year's Wildcats squad, however, doesn't even get fazed by a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, as evidenced by Thursday night's exciting rally that ended in a 78-74 defeat of visiting East Aurora in Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division play.
The Tomcats (4-12, 1-5) opened the fourth quarter with a pair of baskets to take a 64-54 lead and force West Chicago into a timeout. The Wildcats (11-7, 3-4) then picked up the pressure on defense, switching to some full-court pressure and a trapping defense that gave the team a boost.
It took more than just defense to turn the game around, and sophomore guard Michael Bibbs played as well as anyone could play over the final eight minutes, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter and also getting it done on the defensive side of the floor with timely steals and blocked shots.
"We needed to get some stops on defense and we just dug down deep," said Bibbs, whose jumper with 2:19 left to play tied the game at 68-68. "We started playing hard defense and we got some steals. We came up big this game. It was exciting."
West Chicago, as usual, was led by star John Konchar, who tallied a game-high 26 points and added 15 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, but there were plenty of heroes for the hosts. Bibbs came up big down the stretch, Marco Lomibao hit five straight 3-pointers during a huge first half, and Mitchell Henke had 14 points and 2 steals.
Alex Mitchell also nailed a clutch baseline jumper to start the team on a 24-10 run to close out the game.
"The kids stepped up to the challenge. We switched up our defense on them and that really turned the tide," a smiling West Chicago coach Bill Recchia said. "We were down 10 about 30 seconds into the fourth quarter, called a timeout and decided to be a little more aggressive defensively. The kids responded to it. What can I say? It was the effort that the kids put forth that won that ballgame."
Konchar and his coach have noticed an attitude change with the program, and the confident team has been picking up its share of close victories.
"There's times in the past that it would have been like, 'OK, it's over,' " Recchia said of dealing with adversity. "But they expected to win the entire game. Last year, like I've said, we wanted to compete. This year we want to expect to win ballgames and that's what happened tonight."
Konchar, who credits extra work in the summer and in practice with helping his game take off this season, is having lots of fun on the court.
"In this new conference we compete a lot better. We have a lot of closer games and better games. Close games are more fun games. And this year the guys have so much confidence and we always help each other," he said.
East Aurora led 60-54 after three quarters and stayed in the game in large part by knocking down 10 3-pointers, with Delvion Pugh accounting for 19 points and five 3s, and KeJuan Davis scoring 22 points with four 3s.