George changes everything for Neuqua
The game plan went out the window, Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said, when point guard Demond George drew two fouls in the first minute and a half against Bartlett.
Upon his return George blew the doors off. The senior scored 14 of a 16-point run to counter an early Bartlett lead. He later canned a fourth-quarter 3 that put Neuqua Valley up for good, his 20 points pacing a 66-61 victory over the Hawks in Naperville.
"Last time we went up there it was a tough road game. Our mental toughness wasn't as strong, we got down on ourselves, we were missing a lot of shots," George said of Bartlett's 59-54 Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division victory on Dec. 12.
"Today we just wanted to keep our heads up and keep playing, just fighting. We got a lot of fouls today, but we just wanted to keep playing hard," said George, helping 20-3 Neuqua Valley bolster its first-place Valley record to 9-1.
With 16.7 seconds to play Bartlett guard Ryan DiCanio made a 3-pointer to pull within 64-61. Three seconds later George hit a free throw. Bartlett missed a 3, Neuqua's Jacob Eminger grabbed the rebound and made a free throw with 1.9 seconds left to drop Bartlett to 15-7, 6-3.
Neuqua survived with George, guard Connor Raridon and forwards Zach Lendino and Oakley Bunce all playing with 4 fouls in the fourth quarter.
"That was our main thing, was getting to the basket. We know they like to take charges so making the extra pass (was important), and that's what we did this game," said DiCanio, whose 13 points led all five Hawks starters in double digits -- Jason Hasenberg and Tyler Pauletti with 12 apiece, Robby Jimenez and Jordan Anderson each with 11.
"That's what got us into the game, that's what got us closer to the lead. But at the end of the game we've got to finish better," said DiCanio, who defended 11-point scorer Raridon.
Bartlett led 16-8 after one quarter, George on the bench for most of it. He scored the Wildcats' first 12 points of the second quarter, had 2 steals and worked a pick and roll with Lendino. Raridon banked a 3 and Neuqua was back in action, up 27-21.
"When Demond sits the first quarter he has extra energy that second quarter," Sutton said.
Neuqua's Joe Sieger, who scored 13 points, hit a 3 just before the halftime horn for a 30-28 lead. The Wildcats led 40-32 halfway through the third quarter before Bartlett moved within 46-45 entering the fourth.
A pair of Pauletti free throws had Bartlett tied 53-53 with 3:12 left to play. George laced a 3 then took a charge for a 56-53 Neuqua lead with 2:06 remaining.
"You can't complain," said Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith. "We were in position to get ourselves a good look and we just didn't knock them down. I'm not going to say boo. It's tough to beat a good team on their home floor. We gave a great effort and just fell short."