OSWEGO – Nolan Petry received the message from Oswego coach Chad Pohlmann at the end of last season that at the moment seemed improbable for a junior guard with limited minutes.
His time was coming.
“I told him, ‘Buddy, you’re going to start every damn game next year,’ ” Pohlmann said, “and I said, ‘You get out there, you keep shooting it, and you’re going to be awesome.’ ”
That wish became a necessity. Petry is now starting for a banged-up Panthers team. He’s taken the opportunity and run with it.
The 6-foot-2 senior guard scored a team-high 14 points for Oswego on Friday against West Aurora. The winless Panthers trailed by just five points in the final minute of the third quarter before the visiting Blackhawks pulled away for a 61-44 Southwest Prairie Conference win.
Petry, like his coach, saw progress in defeat.
“I definitely felt like it was our hardest-played game of the year,” Petry said. “We really showed that we can compete with anybody. We just have to figure out how to win games down the stretch.”
Petry got increased playing time down the stretch of his junior season, but as a whole received limited minutes.
Now he’s taking on a much greater role as senior Bryce Woods, Oswego’s most experienced guard, suffered a high-ankle sprain in April, came back and rolled the other ankle in the season opener. Adam Woods, the leading scorer for Oswego’s sophomore team last season, has a torn ACL. Jayden Riley, who was in Oswego’s varsity rotation as a promising freshman guard, transferred.
But Petry showed he has his own game to build on, scoring seven of his 14 points in the first quarter as Oswego (0-6, 0-2) jumped out to an 18-13 lead that eventually swelled to seven. A six-minute scoreless drought allowed West Aurora to surge ahead 25-22 by halftime, but a Petry 3-pointer and Michael Delgado basket had Oswego tied 29-29 midway through the third quarter.
“Nolan has the game, but it still takes some time and that experience to get the confidence,” Pohlmann said. “I thought it was his best game tonight. He played fantastic. His confidence is growing.”
Petry also proved to be the only obstacle in the way of West Aurora high flyer Terrence Smith.
The 6-foot-4 Blackhawks’ junior had seven dunks – his only non-dunk a lob that he laid in on the game’s first possession. But Petry got in his path early in the third quarter, and Smith missed a dunk over him.
“We actually were talking about it during the game. If he tried to dunk on anybody, don’t move out of the way, contest him ‚” Petry said. “It’s a lot harder to jam it on someone when they’re in your way.”
Smith scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for West Aurora (4-2, 2-0), and CJ Savage scored 20 points, 18 in the second half. Smith scored eight of his 16 in the first half, with West Aurora never trailing after Smith dunked his own miss for a 21-20 lead with 3:05 left before halftime.
“I know those dunks definitely change the momentum for us. I know our guys definitely love it, the bench, the crowd, it gets everybody fired up,” Smith said. “And I know a lot of teams are intimidated by it.”
First-year West Aurora coach Mike Fowler agreed Smith’s dunks gave his team a spark, and the Blackhawks needed it Friday. West Aurora missed eight of its first 11 free throws and shot 12-for-25 from the line for the game.
“It wasn’t pretty, and I told them that,” Fowler said. “No matter who you play and what their record is, going into their place, searching for a win, they played well. I thought we outlasted them.”
Oswego got a couple tough breaks when junior Dasean Patton, its leading returning scorer, picked up his third foul on a loose ball in the final seconds of the first half. Then Patton got his fourth foul on a technical with 1:27 left in the third and Oswego trailing 38-33. With Patton, who scored 11 points, on the bench, West Aurora ended the third quarter on a 7-1 run and never looked back.
“We have a lot of inexperience out there, so it’s taken us some time to compete,” Pohlmann said. “A lot of these guys we have, they’ve kind of been thrown into the fire. A couple weeks ago we lose that game by 40.”