West Aurora, St Charles North exit Pontiac with identical fates
PONTIAC -- West Aurora and St. Charles North exited the iconic Pontiac Holiday Tournament with identical fates on Thursday.
The former mounted a spirited comeback against Oak Park-River Forest in the first fifth-place semifinal game, only to drop a heart-rendering 60-58 verdict.
The North Stars, unlike the Blackhawks, led at halftime after doubling the second-quarter scoring against Joliet West but were eliminated from further competition with a 61-53 defeat.
Both teams will enter the new year sporting 8-5 records after their three-game experience at the prestigious double-elimination tournament.
The respective boys basketball coaches for the two programs were optimistic as the new year beckons.
"The effort was outstanding," West Aurora coach Brian Johnson said. "If we can do that for four quarters we're going to win a lot of games."
"We're a very good basketball team," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "We have to clean some things up and focus on the details of playing 32 minutes of basketball.
We are better prepared in the second half (of the season) because we come here."
West Aurora trailed for the entire game after OPRF scored 17 of the 22 first-quarter points.
But their twin anchors this season -- sophomore lead guard Josh Pickett and 6-foot-7 senior forward Ty Rogers -- once again spearheaded their second-half renaissance.
Picket drained three 3-pointers as part of his game-high 22-point performance.
Rogers added 11 points as his lone 3-point field goal brought the Blackhawks to within 57-56 with 62 seconds to play.
OPRF Denver-bound senior standout Justin Mullins, who paced the Huskies with 19 points, had a vicious throw down in transition to extend the spread to 59-56.
But the Blackhawks would have not only an opportunity to potentially tie the game but also take the lead on consecutive possessions.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, though, Isaiah Siler was unable to complete a 3-point play in the last half-minute, and Pickett had his 15-foot jump shot on the ensuing possession -- with OPRF clinging to a precarious 59-58 advantage -- fall short.
"I am happy that we fought back," Johnson said. "We dug ourselves a hole. Everybody played their role. Oak Park-River Forest is no pushover. Josh did a lot of nice things with the ball."
"The whole game we knew we could fight back because we have done it so many times already this season," Pickett said. "We stayed confident and started bonding together as a team. I'm glad all my brothers fought until the very end."
With a downstate legacy no other program in the entire Fox Valley can approach, the Blackhawks are vastly improved after suffering through a one-win season during the pandemic-altered season earlier this calendar year.
Defensive breakdowns were at the core of the North Stars having their chance at the fifth-place title game vanish.
Joliet West, which upset fourth-seeded Bloom on Tuesday night, is much better than its 6-7 record would suggest.
The Tigers employed second-chance points as the fulcrum of their victory over the North Stars.
"Our defensive rebounding -- just our defense -- really hurt us," St. Charles North forward Max Love said. "They were attacking us; we weren't boxing out on rebounds. They could make a layup or get fouled. Then they would make all their free throws."
Ethan Marlowe continued his brilliant play for the North Stars.
The 6-8 senior post scored 15 points to lead his team while also collecting a game-high 12 rebounds.
Marlowe twice brought the North Stars to within a point of Joliet West with four makes at the free-throw line late in the fourth quarter.
But Joliet West scored 10 consecutive points after Marlowe made it a 51-50 game on the last of his four straight free throws.
Jayden Martin, one of five Joliet West players in double figures with his team-high 18 points, had a pivotal putback as the centerpiece of the unanswered burst.
"We didn't take care of the defensive glass," Poulin said. "We didn't finish possessions with box outs. In the second half, we had one guy or two who boxed out. It showed in the (final) result."
Love drained three of the North Stars' eight 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 19 points.
St. Charles North reserves Justin Hughes and Brady Rasso also hit two 3-pointers each.