Hope is what high school hoops squads use as their fuel as the regular season heads into its final games.
The hope to nab a conference title, perhaps to land a high state tourney seed -- or more modestly, make progress toward a winning season.
Or even the hope of turning around a year that that hasn't gone according to plan, which was the case as a pair of 15-loss teams met Tuesday in Wheeling for a nonconference contest between the host Wildcats and visiting Maine East.
A quartet of juniors assured that are plenty of reasons for Wheeling to stay optimistic after a 57-28 win.
"Last Tuesday when Niles West beat us here at home, we didn't have any energy whatsoever," third-year Wildcats coach Mike O'Keeffe said. "What we spoke about with our guys was having that energy tonight for Maine East."
Junior Jeremy Kim (10 Points) showed it early for Wheeling (7-15) with his first 3 near the end of the first quarter to cap a 7-0 run that put Wheeling ahead 11-5.
The 5-9 guard opened the second quarter with two more 3s, and senior D.J. Godlewski's 3 extended the Wildcats' edge to 25-14 at halftime.
Then, Wheeling's Michael Best snuffed a Demons comeback. The 6-2 junior opened half number two with his lone 3, sparking a personal surge in which he scored 11 of his 16 points and got the Wildcats some breathing room at 38-17. Wheeling finished 8 of 15 (53 percent) from 3-point range.
"Our goal is to always give 100 percent every time we got out on the floor," Best said. "We trust our coaches, our teammates. We had everything working for us with our game plan."
A game plan that held Maine East (10-16) to just 24 percent shooting (12-for-50) from the field while forcing 16 Demon turnovers.
It also allowed the Wildcats to outrebound their opponents 27-24 as juniors Brandon Zettek (10 points) led the way with 9 boards, and teammate Ivan Muro finished with 8 points and 6 boards.
"It's really just a matter of hustling, getting position, and boxing out," Zettek said. "You're gonna run into teams who may be bigger than you, but if work together you can have success."
Junior guard Ali Sabet paced Maine East with 8 points.
Demons coach Dave Ganus found the night less than satisfying for his squad, which returns to Central Suburban North play Friday with a home game versus Deerfield.
"There wasn't much we could do right," Ganus said. "We had perhaps the worst energy we've had in a game this season. We didn't give ourselves a chance to compete."
For Wheeling, a trip to Christian Liberty Academy's Grace Gym (aka the old Arlington High) is up next. The Wildcats will meet Buffalo Grove in a 4:30 p.m. tip, the first of three games in a Mid-Suburban East tripleheader.
"I think its really cool," O'Keeffe said. "My AAU team both played and practiced there when I was growing up. For us to be able to beat Buffalo Grove, we're gonna need to have a couple of good practices leading up to Friday because they're a super-talented team that's very well-coached and that is really starting to play well."