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Though short handed, the South Elgin boys basketball team pulled out a 69-62 nonconference victory at Hampshire Wednesday because it made the right decisions with the ball when it mattered most.
Playing without leading scorer Matt Smith (illness) — a sophomore guard averaging 17.9 points per game — and reserve forward Julian Lynch (ankle), the Storm took good shots down the stretch and made 6 straight free throws to build a 7-point lead with 42 seconds left.
“Offensively, they stayed with what got them the lead in the first place,” South Elgin coach Matt Petersen said of his players. “And that’s important because usually we revert back to throwing up quick shots, bad shots. In that stretch we kept taking good shots, and when you do that good things are going to happen. I was proud of their effort there.”
South Elgin (11-12) led 34-33 at the half and maintained a slight advantage until junior Drew Doran sank a 3-pointer for Hampshire (10-13) with 4:32 left, which gave the Whip-Purs their first lead of the second half, 53-52.
The Storm snatched the lead back when senior guard Matt McClure scored in transition with 1:59 remaining.
Hampshire senior Ryan Cork (15 points) split a pair of free throws at the other end, but South Elgin’s Darius Wells was quickly fouled and drained a pair of free throws for a 3-point lead.
After Hampshire missed 2 shots at the other end, Wells got the ball to 6-foot-8 sophomore Tyler Hankins for a layup and a 63-58 lead with 1:09 to go.
Hampshire’s inability to pull out close games is starting to eat at Whips coach Bob Barnett.
“We had several shots, some one-and-ones, some missed free throws, turnovers,” Barnett said. “I know it’s a young team, but it’s getting redundant and it’s starting to wear on me a little bit.”
Hampshire made 26 of its 32 free-throw attempts, but 4 of its 6 misses came in the fourth quarter.
“South Elgin did exactly what they needed to do down the stretch,” Barnett added. “They got good shots, good looks, knocked down free throws. We had some good looks. We didn’t knock them down and we missed free throws. That’s why we’re 10-13.”
Why did South Elgin score 23 fourth-quarter points?
“Just our tempo,” senior guard Darius Wells said, “the way we moved the ball, got our screens set, popping, slipping to the basket. Things like that.”
The loss overshadowed a huge night by Hampshire junior forward Matt Bridges, who led all scorers with 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting. However, the rest of the Whip-Purs combined to shoot 9 of 40 from the field.
South Elgin shot 20 of 56 (37.7 percent) and made 7 of 27 attempts from 3-point range, but the Storm did much of their damage at the free-throw line, where they made 26 of 32.
Wells scored 13 points, McClure finished with 12 points, guard Justin Howard sank three 3-pointers to finish with 11 points, forward Jake Amrhein notched 11 points and Hankins added 8 points and 7 rebounds for South Elgin.
The victory snapped a 6-game skid for South Elgin, which welcomes Upstate Eight Valley power Neuqua Valley on Saturday.