Boys basketball: Resilient Joliet Central claims overtime win over Plainfield North

Steelmen erase double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit

Joliet Central's Zion Kostyra drives to the basket during a conference game against Plainfield North on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024, at Joliet. (Dean Reid for Shaw Local News Network)

JOLIET – The penalty for missing free throws in practice at Joliet Central is running.

Zion Kostyra must not be a big fan of paying the fare for those miscues because his free-throw shooting was on point Friday night. Kostyra and teammate Deven Triplett went 10 for 10 from the line collectively in overtime to send Joliet Central to a 55-50 victory over Plainfield North.

“We have to run if we miss,” Kostyra said. “So we know we have to make those.”

Those 10 free throws were the only points scored by the Steelmen in overtime in a game where offense was at an extreme premium for most of the night on both ends.

Joliet Central's Deven Triplett goes up strong for a jump shot  during a conference game againast Plainfield North on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024, at Joliet. (Dean Reid for Shaw Local News Network)

“They don’t like running, but we’ve got them in good enough shape because we’ve got to run around the whole time,” Joliet Central coach Larry Thompson Jr. said. “They think about it as not running, but they don’t understand that key that we’ve been running the whole game and still have enough energy to put those in the hole at the end of the game.”

The victory, Joliet Central’s fifth consecutive win, looked extremely unlikely most of the night.

The Steelmen (14-7, 5-5 Southwest Prairie) found themselves down 36-26 after three quarters, but started to slowly slice into the Plainfield North lead. It also didn’t hurt that the Tigers (12-10, 5-5) scored just four points over the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.

A 13-1 scoring run capped by a Danny Thompson 3-pointer gave Joliet Central its first lead at the 1:15 mark of the fourth quarter.

“We actually got turnovers and scored,” Thompson said. “We had been getting turnovers and weren’t either getting a good shot, not finishing or turning it right back over. So them seeing the fruits of their labor helped out. They really do believe and they just kept at it.”

Plainfield North's Jeffrey Fleming double teamed during a conference game against Joliet Central on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024, at Joliet. (Dean Reid for Shaw Local News Network)

Plainfield North missed a pair of free throws that could have tied it right back up, but Jeffrey Fleming, who led all scorers with 27 points, grabbed an offensive rebound, was fouled and made both free throws to knot the score at 43.

Kostyra, who scored 20 points, made what appeared to be a pivotal error after the inbounds, stepping on the out of bounds line while trying to break through the Plainfield North ball pressure. But he didn’t hang his head, and scooped up a steal just a few seconds later, taking it the length of the floor for a go-ahead basket to make it 45-43.

A pair of Fleming free throws with 22 seconds to play tied the score yet again and neither team could tack on any more points to send the contest into overtime.

Kostyra drilled six consecutive free throws for Joliet Central to start the extra frame and at one point the Steelmen had forged a four-point lead.

Pierre Pointer made 3-of-4 free throws on two trips to the line to draw Plainfield North within one point once at 51-50, but the Tigers wouldn’t score again and Triplett (13 points) calmly sank four consecutive free throws in the game’s final 20 seconds to secure the victory.

“This feels great,” Kostyra said. “That was a great team win. We started slow. We only had 15 points at half. But we came back as a team. We started hitting shots, we took it to overtime and we executed. That was a great team win.”

On throwback night, the Steelmen wore uniforms of Joliet East, a District 204 high school that closed in 1983.