Top seed Oswego East overcomes West Aurora's halftime lead

 
 
Updated 2/25/2022 11:18 PM

Whatever Ryan Velasquez's halftime message is, he needs to market it.

Throughout a record-breaking season, Velasquez and Oswego East have been a notorious second-half team. The Wolves also seem to possess the knack of winning close games.

 

Both patterns continued Friday.

Oswego East held West Aurora scoreless for a four-minute stretch in the third quarter, flipping a four-point halftime deficit.

The Wolves rode that, and a huge edge at the free-throw line, to a hard-fought 63-55 win over West Aurora in the Class 4A Joliet Central regional final.

"Between [Velasquez] and [assistant] coach [Patrick Molinari], they always get us motivated," said Oswego East senior Patrick Robinson, who scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half. "We've been in these situations before. Teams get excited when they go up on us. You have to play 32 minutes. The message tonight was keep playing our game, take care of the ball and lock in defensively."

DeVon Oregon scored 19 points, Darren Oregon had nine points and Mekhi Lowery nine points and 10 rebounds for Oswego East (32-1), which won the program's third regional title.

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The Wolves, who have already set a program record for wins, have bigger goals in mind. That didn't stop them from relishing this win.

Velasquez asked his athletic director if they were taking the nets home. Oregon grabbed the regional plaque and led the Wolves over to a jubilant section of fans afterward.

"These guys showed a lot of resilience throughout the course of the game," Velasquez said. "They never put their head down. They're grinders. Very talented group with a high basketball IQ that has a lot of fight in them every time they step on the court. Regional championships are not easy. They earned this one tonight."

Indeed, West Aurora (17-14), which only lost by one in the teams' first regular-season meeting, took the fight to the Wolves in the first half.

Freshman Terrence Smith, who joined the Blackhawks' starting lineup when senior Chris Stinson went down after the East Aurora game, led the charge. The 6-foot-3 wing scored 10 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, his thunderous dunk in transition giving West Aurora its biggest lead, 30-23.

It was 31-27 at half.

"I hope his name gets out there after a game like tonight," West Aurora coach Brian Johnson said. "He's been doing it ever since he's been a starter."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Blackhawks still led 36-35 after Kenyon Weekley split two free throws with 4:56 left in the third quarter, but at the other end Darren Oregon tipped in a Lowery miss to give Oswego East the lead for good.

West Aurora, with six turnovers in the third quarter, went scoreless for 4:18. DeVon Oregon's three-point capped off a 10-2 run to close the third quarter with Oswego East ahead 45-38.

"I think it was 'white,' our 2-3 zone, locked in on that," said Oregon, who had four steals and a number of deflections. "We had to keep our hands up, force them not to score."

The third quarter has been West Aurora's nemesis season-long, Johnson lamented.

"You can't go four or five minutes without getting a score no matter how many stops you get," Johnson said. "They'll break through and get buckets. They're a great team. I thought we played hard."

Robinson, coming off a 32-point game Wednesday against Oswego, was held to just one field goal in the first half against a West Aurora team with size.

But he stuck with it.

Robinson's tough baseline fadeaway, which he scored through contact for a three-point play, made it 51-42 with 5:08 left. Robinson was 7-for-9 from the free-throw line, leading Oswego East's 24-for-33 effort that was 23-for-27 until the final minute. West Aurora was 12-for-14 at the line.

"I stressed all week just making free throws and getting to the line," Robinson said. "I knew playoffs it would be really big to knock down shots in the clutch, attack the basket, play through contact and get to the line."

Sophomore Josh Pickett added 12 points for West Aurora.

Oswego East needed to beat two conference rivals for a third time this season to win a regional title, and gets another rematch in Tuesday's sectional semifinal against Neuqua Valley at Oswego.

The Wolves beat Neuqua Valley, who knocked off Joliet West Friday, 53-33 in November.

"It's always hard," Robinson said, "especially playing people who are so close to us. We just had to keep our composure and lock in on defense."

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