Hot start propels Round Lake past Wauconda
Few high school basketball teams drop 31 points on an opponent in the opening quarter of a game.
But then, Round Lake's boys have surprised all season.
The Panthers did it again on Tuesday night.
Facing visiting Wauconda, which came in tied with Grayslake Central atop the Northern Lake County Conference standings, Round Lake not only showed it can pile up points in a hurry, but can recover from relinquishing a huge lead and play tough down the stretch.
The Panthers hung on for a 70-66 win to snap a season-worst four-game losing streak. They improved to 14-8 (4-2 NLCC), their most wins since they captured 18 in the 1995-96 campaign.
"We were playing bad [during the losing streak]," junior guard Deveauntay McNeal said after posting a game-high 19 points to go along with 9 rebounds, 6 steals and 5 assists. "[Coach] said, 'Go out there and win.' It was for second place, so we went out there and got it done."
Round Lake busted out to a 31-15 lead after one quarter, shooting 12 of 21 from the floor. The Panthers got five 3-pointers from four players, with Hakim Willians (18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals) hitting a pair.
"It's about time," Round Lake coach Jay Iden said. "I've been pleading with them for two years to come out fast."
"We just got the ball moving," said McNeal, who had 7 points and 3 assists in the opening eight minutes. "Everybody was getting it. I was driving and kicking the ball to them, and they were hitting their shots. Everybody was getting open."
McNeal was especially effective on the offensive glass, grabbing 7 of the Panthers' 18 offensive rebounds.
"When my teams needs [the offensive rebound]," McNeal said, "I got to go get it for them."
"We shot ourselves in the foot too many times by not getting the rebounds," coach Scott Luetschwager said after his Bulldogs fell to 13-6 and 4-2 in the NLCC. "The game plan was there. [Round Lake] missed shots and then they were able to get the rebounds and get the putbacks. Offensively, we threw some balls away. We got out of our rhythm and what we're trying to do. We just made some bad plays at the offensive end."
Round Lake led by as many as 20 points (35-15) early in the second quarter but ran out a gas. The Panthers still led 44-31 at halftime, but Donovan Carter's breakaway, right-handed dunk helped rally Wauconda in the third quarter, as the Bulldogs got within 58-52 entering the fourth. For the 6-foot-4 Carter, who became his school's all-time leading scorer last Friday night at North Chicago, it was the first dunk in his three-year career on varsity.
He finished with a team-best 14 points, hiking his career total to 1,306.
"That's the first time I've seen him dunk in a game," Luetschwager said. "He's had some dunks in practice. That was a nice dunk in the game for him."
Wauconda finally pulled even in the fourth, opening the quarter with an 8-2 run. But Round Lake regained the lead for good on a bucket by McNeal. Williams scored on a putback, and Kevonne Peterson's 2 free throws made it 66-60 with 3:06 left. Wauconda never recovered.
Isaiah Nixon (15 points, three 3-pointers) and Peterson (10 off the bench) also scored in double figures for Round Lake.
Nick Bulgarelli and Benji Chung added 13 and 12 points, respectively, for Wauconda. Brad Nolan scored 9 points coming off the bench.
The Panthers made 7 of 11 free throws in the fourth.
"We've competed the past four games, despite them being losses, and kept working hard," Iden said. "Last week [against Grayslake Central], we didn't step up in that first-place game. This game was to stay relevant in the conference. It shows that they're growing as a team."