Neuqua Valley sails past Waubonsie Valley in second half
Rivalry games can bring out the best in teams.
Both Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley could make that claim Friday night -- for 16 minutes -- but it was Neuqua's exemplary second half that was enough to overcome Waubonsie's strong opening two quarters as the Wildcats came back from a halftime deficit to post a 66-52 DuPage Valley Conference victory in Naperville.
"We couldn't stop them in the first quarter. It was a disaster," said Neuqua coach Todd Sutton. "It was a little better in the second quarter, and in the third and fourth quarter we were a lot better."
Indeed, the visiting Warriors (2-6, 0-3) came out on fire as they made 7 of 9 shots, including a combined four 3-pointers from Justin Mullinax, Mark Rullo and Brian Phillips, to open an 18-13 lead after eight minutes. They sustained the lead throughout the second quarter with a pair of Eric Cannon free throws with seven seconds left making it 31-28 in Waubonsie's favor at the break.
But as well as the Warriors played in the first half -- 12-of-18 shooting, a 13-12 rebounding edge over the much bigger Wildcats and only 8 turnovers -- the first 2:20 of the third quarter proved to be their undoing. In that stretch Waubonsie missed its first three shots and committed 4 turnovers, while Joe Sieger, Alex Filo and Ryan Phillips combined to score 8 points to give the Wildcats (3-4, 2-1) a 36-31 lead they would not relinquish.
The key to the turnaround was Neuqua's total dominance on the glass in the second half as the Wildcats grabbed 22 boards and their 11 offensive rebounds were more than the 9 total that the Warriors could corral. The board dominance was most evident in a 12-second span in the game's final minute when Jacob Cushing, Blaise Meredith and Joe Sieger all grabbed missed Neuqua free throws on the same possession, which kept the Warriors from mounting any type of sustained comeback.
"Our bigs did a great job offensive rebounding, especially on the free throws at the end," said Sieger, who scored a game-high 25 points. "We were like, if you want to keep giving them to us, we'll take it."
For Waubonsie coach Chaz Taft, the tale of two halves was a movie he has already seen too often this season.
"We talked about it after the game, we let the little things add up to big things," he said. "We gave up a couple offensive rebound putbacks, turned the ball over a few times and that's the swing, then we're chasing."