It took the Washington boys basketball team almost three full quarters to find offensive consistency Wednesday in the quarterfinal round of the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament against Normal West.
In the end, it was too late in a 42-39 loss to the Wildcats.
Normal West stifled the Panthers on offense in the first half, holding Washington to seven points on a 2-of-11 shooting performance.
Washington’s shooting from the field, combined with a 2-of-8 showing at the free-throw line, was enough to give the Wildcats a 18-7 halftime lead.
Normal West never trailed in the game, and hasn’t trailed through two games in the tournament.
Down by nine with 55 seconds left in the third quarter, Washington junior Adrian Ware took over, scoring all of his team-high 17 points in an 8:55 span between the third and fourth quarter to pull Washington as close as one point with 12.7 seconds left.
“From about the three minute mark in the third quarter, we did what we were supposed to be doing,” Washington coach Kevin Brown said. “We got up, pressured, shut the reversal down and it caused problems. At that point in time, every possession becomes a huge part of the game.”
Francis Okoro, a 6-foot-9 sophomore from Normal West, streaked down the floor and capped off a hail-mary style inbound pass with a dunk to give the Wildcats a 42-39 lead with under 10 seconds left.
Washington’s Devin Whitelow missed a pair of 3-pointers on the Panthers’ final possession, which would have forced overtime.
The Panthers outscored the Wildcats 32-24 in the second half, but the first half deficit was too much to overcome.
“No body wanted the ball,” Brown said of the first half. “They wanted to pass it around 42 feet. No body wanted to screen an interior post player, nobody wanted to screen an outside shoulder on the outside to get a guy a shot. We had guys who have never shot a single shot in their life from 24 feet that spent the entire first quarter at 24 feet, ball faking to who knows where.”
Normal West struggled on offense in the first quarter, but got points from four different players in the second quarter to build a lead as big as 12 points in the second frame.
The Wildcats’ defense did the rest.
No Normal West player scored in double figures, but seven different Wildcats scored in the game. Donzell Johnson scored a team-high nine points for Normal West.
No shot was bigger than a 3-pointer by Brady Cupples with 3:54 left in the game to extend the Wildcats’ lead from three to six points.
“That was big,” Normal West coach Brian Cupples said.
Normal West knocked down all four of it’s free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
Brian Cupples said his offense was the reason for Washington’s late surge back into the game, not his team’s defense.
“I thought we turned it over a little bit against their pressure,” Cupples said. “We had some bad turnovers. I’m proud of my kids for battling through. Two weeks ago we would have lost the game.”
Whitelow was the only other Panther to score in double figures with 13 points.
“Offensively, we’ve got a lot of holes right now. We’re relying heavily on one person and we never know what the other guys are going to give us. We have a couple guys who can score, but we never know what they’re going to give us,” Brown said