OSWEGO – Oswego couldn’t stop turning the ball over against Joliet Central during the first half of Tuesday’s home Southwest Prairie Conference game.
The Panthers came out of halftime and didn’t give away a single possession in the third quarter, though, drastically cleaning things up to eliminate a halftime deficit and rally for a 59-56 victory over the Steelmen.
“It was an incredibly frustrating game, but a credit to [Joliet Central],” Panthers coach Chad Pohlmann said. “We’ve been playing pretty sound the last few weeks and taking care of the ball and executing well. In the last three or four games, I’m not sure we’ve had double-digit turnovers in any of the games, but we were just very careless tonight.”
Oswego (10-13, 6-5) committed 12 of its 17 turnovers in the first half, but didn’t have a single one in the third quarter.
“Coach didn’t say anything at halftime, it was just us talking,” Panthers senior Max Niesman said. “We knew what we had to do. We came out so sluggish and throwing the ball away, so that’s what we focused on and came out with a strong third quarter.
“That third quarter was big and helped us win the game.”
Niesman scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the second half.
“In the third quarter I realized when I caught the ball in the middle, I wasn’t looking to score,” he said. “They really weren’t there to guard me, so I knew I could score easily.”
Joliet Central (6-19, 2-9) recently snapped a 10-game losing streak and went into halftime with some confidence and momentum, leading 28-22.
“We’ve been playing pretty good in the first half, but then in the second half we fall apart,” Steelmen junior Zion Kostyra said “It usually happens from missing 3s and taking earlier shots in possessions and not passing the ball around, so we’re running a lot and we get tired and are on defense a lot. We’ve got to execute better.”
So do the Panthers, who were able to win their fourth straight despite the challenging start.
“I don’t think we were playing hard in the first half,” Panthers junior Deasean Patton said. “We finally came out in the second half and picked it up and got the lead and never looked back.”
Patton scored two of his 12 points on a beautiful dish from Niesman with 4:24 left in the third quarter to give Oswego a 35-33 lead. They’d cope with the Steelmen tying the game up, but they wouldn’t trail again.
“Our last three wins before this, we’ve started off sluggish,” Nieman said. “Against Plainfield East we went down seven. I think we went down 8-0 to start the game against Plainfield South, and then against Naperville North we were down 10-0. So the last four games we’ve not been ready for the start, but our second half, the third quarter especially, has been helping us, coming out with a lot of energy.”
Patton’s basket with 1:04 left increased Oswego’s lead to 55-47, but the Steelmen wouldn’t quit, pulling to within 56-53 after Kostyra buried a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left.
The Steelmen would force a turnover and attempt a game-tying 3 before Patton split two free throws with 21 seconds left to increase Oswego’s lead to 57-53.
Robert Williams drilled a 3-pointer to pull the Steelmen to within 57-56 with 4.7 seconds left. Then they nearly forced a turnover to shoot for the win, but ended up fouling freshman Jayden Riley, who had made 2 of 6 free throws earlier in the game.
Riley knocked down both free throws with 1.1 seconds left, and the Panthers were able to survive Joliet Central’s upset bid.
“Max [Niesman] really set the tone in the third quarter,” Pohlmann said. “We had some mental errors and some missed free throws and gave up some offensive rebounds and that sort of thing, but a win is a win, but we know we have to play better than we did tonight.”
Riley and Jeremiah Akin each contributed nine points in the victory for the Panthers, while Patton led the team with seven rebounds.
Kostyra led the Steelmen with 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Jamarco Holman added 11 points, knocking down all eight of his free throw attempts.
The Steelmen made 14 of 19 free throws, while the Panthers converted 16 of 26.