JOLIET – There have been some days already this season when Romeoville has held defense-only practices.
The work on that end of the floor showed itself early and continued throughout the game Monday night in the opening round of the 27th WJOL Thanksgiving Tournament. The Spartans defeated Lockport 65-40 on Pat Quigley Court at the University of St. Francis’ Pat Sullivan Center.
The tight, in-your-face defense played by the Spartans forced Lockport into 10 turnovers in the first quarter. Romeoville also spread the wealth on the other side of the floor. In their first 10 points of the game, each of the starting five had two.
DJ Porter Jr. was the middle of the action for the Spartans and led them in scoring with 19 points. He also tied for the team lead with six rebounds and came away with two steals.
Point guard EJ Mosley Jr. had a team-high nine steals and finished with nine points, while 6-foot-9 Adam Walker had 16 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.
“Defense is the identity we want,” Porter said. “That’s what we’ve been working on for the last two months. We work hard on our defense and our conditioning. Sometimes we have all-defense days at practice. That’s how much we work at it.
“I thought for the first time out, we did great. We could have done a little better at times. We had a stretch in the third quarter where we let up a little bit, but we got back to doing what we do.”
What they did was jump on Lockport early, racing out to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes before Lockport’s Drew Gallagher hit a 3-pointer. Lockport got to within 10-5 before Romeoville scored eight straight points to move out to an 18-5 lead, which the Porters trimmed to 18-9 at the end of the first quarter.
Mosley had six of his steals in the first quarter, which helped the Spartans build the lead.
“We know we have to play team defense,” Romeoville coach Marc Howard said. ”We need to help the helper and close out on shooters. The kids have bought in and things look good.
“Having a point guard with nine steals really helps set the tone. And this team is one of the most unselfish I have ever coached. They don’t care who scores, as long as the ball goes in the basket. And yes, we do have some defense-only days at practice. If our defense is where we want it, we’ll get points in transition off of our defense.”
Lockport was able to protect the ball better the rest of the way and cut the lead to 31-22 late in the second quarter. Mosley then got a steal and a layup, and after a Lockport turnover with 3.3 seconds left, he hit a 35-foot 3-pointer to close the half with a 36-22 Spartan lead.
Romeoville continued to pour it on to start the second half, scoring the first eight points to make it 44-22 before Collin Miller (7 points) hit a 3-pointer for the Porters.
“It’s our first game, and there is still work to be done,” first-year Lockport coach David Wilson said. “We are still trying to figure things out. We got better in the second quarter and went on a little run and closed it to nine points, but then they got that 35-footer to go in at the buzzer.
“Romeoville brought a lot of physicality on defense, and that’s not something we are used to. We got swallowed up and overwhelmed on the offensive end early on. We will make adjustments to enhance what our strengths are without re-inventing the wheel. I can’t wait to see us evolve.”
Walker dominated the action in the third quarter, delivering two dunks and blocking a pair of shots. Meanwhile, Porter scored seven of his points in the quarter, including a 3-pointer.
“With the skill and talent that we have, if we can do the job defensively, the offense will take care of itself,” Howard said.