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  • Written by Ken Karson

Fourth-quarter rally boosts Astros over Mustangs

  Shepard was better late than ever Friday night.
  Seemingly destined for an unpleasant result at Evergreen Park, the Astros not only refused to go down quietly, they declined to succumb at all to the Mustangs. Aided by some crucial misses at the foul line by Evergreen and a few Mustangs turnovers as well, Shepard rallied with a 21-point closing quarter.
  That output, which represented 70 percent of the Astros’ scoring total through the first three periods, was just enough to boost them to a 51-48 victory and inch them closer to the top of the South Suburban Conference Red. Shepard (8-9, 5-3) was just one game behind front-running Richards entering the current week, a margin that also got reduced by the Bulldogs’ conference loss at Argo last Friday.

  When reminded of the development, Astros coach Tony Chiuccariello chuckled and said he wasn’t yet concerned with how the race was shaping up.
  “This was a real nice win,” he said, “but I think we’ve got to approach it, clichéd as this is, one game at a time.”
  That being said, the veteran leader was undeniably happy about the way things shook out for his squad versus Evergreen. What perplexed him a bit was exactly how the victory was accomplished.
  “If you play both teams full strength, it’s probably five [wins] out of 10 [for each club],” Chiuccariello said. “We’re very evenly matched, but if you look at the stats [in this instance], everything was Evergreen. Evergreen controlled most of the game, so how did we win?”
  Well, one way was by taking full advantage of the Mustangs’ shortcomings. Evergreen ended the evening with 17 miscues, compared to 13 for Shepard, and the Astros also outscored the Mustangs by five points at the free-throw line, even though the visitors took three fewer shots from there.
  Still, Evergreen asserted itself in the second quarter by blitzing Shepard with a 19-8 run and established a 10-point halftime cushion. Issac Matthews’ 3-pointer with 48 seconds left created the double-digit margin, but he had also contributed another basket and four free throws to the Mustangs’ cause earlier in the session.
  “He’s a real key for them,” Chiuccariello said of Matthews, “and we had trouble guarding him.”
  Another Matthews hoop began the third period, but the Astros slowly climbed back into contention after that. Darren Cohen’s basket off a feed from Ken Gorski concluded the quarter on a strong note, and Shepard trailed by only five entering the final frame.
  Jordan Brown’s bucket with 5:11 remaining gave Evergreen a 41-32 edge, but from there it was mostly a downhill ride for the hosts. Five missed free throws — including two front ends of a 1-and-1 on the same possession — and four turnovers dogged the Mustangs (9-9, 1-6) the rest of the way and they were unable to maintain their hold on the lead.
  Chiuccariello rightfully pointed out that Evergreen likely missed the presence of senior Jacquet McClendon, who was absent because of a football-related commitment, in the waning moments. His coaching counterpart refused to cite that as a factor, however.
  “There’s no excuse,” Mustangs boss Pat Flannigan said. “We were in control, but we got outplayed down the stretch there.
  “Tony kept them hanging around and they did what they had to do. He’s got two dynamite guards who played well and didn’t miss free throws.”
  One of those guards, Jacob Littleton, loomed especially large at crunch time. His three-point play drew the Astros within 43-40 and then his layup off a Nick Heidinger assist put the visitors in front with1:21 left, their first advantage since the end of the opening quarter. Littleton (25 points, eight rebounds, three assists) added three late free throws to stave off Evergreen.
  His partner Cohen made an impact on both ends of the floor. Cohen’s short jumper countered a Mustangs 3-ball and put Shepard in front to stay, and then he disrupted Evergreen’s last possession by knocking the ball out of bounds and taking valuable tenths of a second off the clock, thereby leaving the Mustangs no time to respond.
  Cohen finished with 13 points and six rebounds in support of Littleton. The Astros triumphed despite hitting just one third of their shots, but Chiuccariello felt his guys had improved their execution during the second half.
  “We did a much better job with our patience on offense,” he said. “If you reverse the ball, you will get seams to drive on.
  “[And] we were playing better defensively. It was a hard-fought game and the boys were very resilient again.”
  While Shepard continues its pursuit of Richards in the SSC Red standings by visiting Oak Lawn on Friday, Evergreen is out of the title hunt. That doesn’t mean, though, Flannigan is viewing the remainder of the regular schedule as a mere playing out of the string.
  “There’s some big games out there for us,” he said. “We think we can get hot again and run the table. If we get out of here with a winning record [this year], that’d be good to the coaches.
  “The program’s improving and the kids are learning, which is what we want.”
  Matthews (12 points, six rebounds) was the Mustangs’ top gun versus Shepard, but Tony Weathersby (10 points, seven rebounds), Alex Cheatham (eight points, 10 rebounds), Brown (eight points) and Tobi Oladejo (seven points, six assists, three steals) also played well for Evergreen in defeat.
Evergreen Park 59
Moline 53
  Foul shooting has not really been a strength for the Mustangs this winter, but that’s what saved them last Monday against the Maroons in Day 2 of the latter’s shootout event.
  Evergreen dropped in 15 free throws during the fourth quarter, which enabled it to withstand Moline’s 26-point outburst. The Mustangs tallied that same number of points in the stanza and nailed down the win.
  Evergreen’s 17-6 scoring edge in the second period had given it a lead to protect, and that quarter concluded in solid fashion for the Mustangs, who embarked on an 8-1 run as Weathersby (two baskets), Brown and McClendon all lent a hand. Five missed shots and two turnovers by the Maroons were also part of the momentum-shifting sequence.
  Evergreen was ahead by double digits a couple times during the third quarter, but its own brief bout of ineptitude — the Mustangs misfired on four possessions and lost the ball on four other occasions — kept it from pulling away for good. McClendon’s bucket and Oladejo’s 3-pointer finally stopped the bleeding and allowed Evergreen to end the frame on a positive note.
  Weathersby (16 points), Matthews (15 points, three assists) and Oladejo (10 points, six rebounds, two steals) were the integral components within the Mustangs’ attack, but Brown (nine points, seven rebounds) and McClendon (six points) were pivotal individuals as well. Evergreen fired away at a healthy 55 percent clip, although its 56 percent success rate at the line was definitely something Flannigan would like to see get spruced up.
Evergreen Park 62
Marengo 57
  The Mustangs completed a spotless run through four tournament games and collected a championship later on Monday by downing the Indians behind big efforts from Weathersby (21 points, four steals) and Brown (10 points, five rebounds, four assists), plus measurable input from several other players.
  Evergreen stormed in front by going on a 16-3 tear to close out the first half. Five players scored during the run, with Matthews and McClendon delivering two buckets apiece. One of Matthews’ hoops was launched from beyond the arc and Oladejo also canned a 3-pointer.
  Along with the Mustangs’ offense came unexpected assistance from Marengo, which committed six straight turnovers during one stretch of Evergreen’s surge and a total of eight in the final 6 ½ minutes of the second period.
  The Mustangs’ lead stood at 16 points late in the third quarter following an Oladejo basket, but then they endured a dry spell of their own and the Indians clawed their way back into contention. Nine unanswered points keyed the rally, and Marengo eventually got within 58-54 before Evergreen stemmed the tide with four free throws in the last 34 seconds.
  “We were not comfortable with that game at all as coaches,” Flannigan said. “We were one good possession away from putting this game away, but [the Indians] made it interesting. It was a big turnaround in a short time.
  “The first half was as fine a half as we’ve played all year, but we have those few moments where we shoot ourselves in the foot. We’ve got to learn to become very clear during timeouts — we did not need to shoot another jumper [while holding a big lead], but we did it a couple times.”
  Even so, Flannigan came away from the Moline Shootout satisfied overall.
  “We played some good teams and played pretty well,” he said. “We were pretty happy with that tournament.”
Evergreen returns to action on Friday versus Eisenhower.

Statistics

Shepard 10 8 12 21 - 51
Evergreen Park 9 19 7 13 - 48

Shepard Scoring: Littleton 25, Cohen 13, Haxel 5, Heidinger 4, Ogungbemi 3, Witherspoon 1. Rebounds: Littleton 8, Cohen 6. Assists: Littleton 3.

Evergreen Park Scoring: Matthews 12, Weathersby 10, Brown 8, Cheatham 8, Oladejo 7, Pritchett 3. Rebounds: Cheatham 10, Weathersby 7, Matthews 6. Assists: Oladejo 6. Steals: Oladejo 3, Pritchett 3.

Evergreen Park 5 17 11 26 - 59
Moline 8 6 13 26 - 53

Evergreen Park Scoring: Weathersby 16, Matthews 15, Oladejo 10, Brown 9, McClendon 6, Cheatham 3. Rebounds: Brown 7, Oladejo 6. Assists: Matthews 3, McClendon 3. Steals: Oladejo 2.

Evergreen Park 17 18 15 12 - 62
Marengo 17 8 11 21 - 57

Evergreen Park Scoring: Weathersby 21, Brown 10, Matthews 9, McClendon 9, Cheatham 7, Oladejo 5, Pritchett 1. Rebounds: Brown 5, Cheatham 5, Matthews 5. Assists: Oladejo 7. Steals: Weathersby 4.

 

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