Neuqua Valley rattles Geneva
Neuqua Valley pressured Geneva into a season-high 25 turnovers Wednesday at the 47th annual East Aurora Holiday Tournament, denying the Vikings a chance to be the first team to put a dent in the Wildcats' perfect 11-0 record.
Now Geneva (11-2) can only hope to play well enough in March to have that opportunity again that got away in the 56-43 loss.
"We did not handle their pressure very well," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "I'm not going to make excuses, we just didn't handle their pressure very well.
"I'll tell you this, I'd love another chance at Neuqua. I'd take two more chances at Neuqua. They did a nice job disrupting what we do, but I'd like to be at full strength."
Of all the players you don't want to miss against the type of full-court pressure the Wildcats apply, point guard Cam Cook (deep thigh bruise) would rank high on that list. The Vikings also are missing two of their reserves, Justin Durante and Anthony Bragg.
Wildcats junior Elijah Robertson and his teammates gave Geneva's ballhandlers fits, getting in passing lanes and forcing one mistake after another.
Robertston had 2 of his team's 14 steals — Trevor Davis and Connor Raridon led the way with 4 each — while finishing with team-highs of 14 points and 5 rebounds all while coming off the bench. Neuqua's bench outscored Geneva's 23-7.
"We started off a little slow so I just tried to come in and bring a spark on the defensive end," Robertson said. "Our defense is our strong point. Considering we missed a whole bunch of layups we had to pick it up (on defense) against a good team like that."
Geneva led just twice. The first came on Jason D'Amico's putback basket to open the scoring after the Vikings started the game with turnovers on their first two possessions, a problem Geneva never solved.
"It was tough, it was hard to get a pass off," D'Amico said. "We didn't really meet our passes. We didn't dribble pass it, we kind of sat back and threw a lazy pass. We haven't had anyone pressure us like that. We got rattled."
The Vikings' only other lead came after a 10-0 run in the second quarter made it 18-17. Nate Navigato drained a 3-pointer and scored on a spin move down the lane during the surge, and D'Amico capped it with a 12-foot leaner.
But after going ahead the turnover bug bit Geneva again including a stretch of four possessions when the Vikings struggled just to get the ball inbounds and either were called for a 5-second call or threw the ball away.
The Wildcats quickly capitalized, making 5 of 6 free throws in the final two minutes of the first half to take a 24-19 halftime lead.
"Part of it was we were rushing to get the ball in bounds which we don't need to do and the other part was guys were not going to the right spots on our press offense," Ralston said. "Guys who were cutting were wide open and we weren't looking for them, that was pat of the issue. That has got to improve."
Neuqua Valley finished 25 for 31 at the free-throw line including 16 for 18 in the second half. That, along with 9 more Geneva turnovers, kept the Vikings from ever getting closer than 5 points in the second half.
After two free throws by Robertson stretched the Wildcats' lead to 40-27 early in the fourth quarter, Geneva outscored the Wildcats 10-4 to pull within 44-37 on a 3-point play from Connor Chapman with 4:17 remaining.
The Wildcats answered with two free throws by Western Illinois-bound Jabari Sandifer (10 points), a 3-point shot by Brad Mikulecky and two more free throws from Sandifer for a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
"They are very strong and they are very physical," Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said of Geneva. "It was a physical game. Both teams struggled offensively maybe because both teams played real good defense.
"He's (Robertson) playing very good basketball. He's really coming on. He made a lot of plays on the defensive end."
Neither team shot well from the field — the Wildcats at 28 percent (14 for 50) and Geneva at 40 (14 for 35). Navigato led all scorers with 15 points, Chapman had 8 and Mike Trimble 7.
"Defense was the only reason we were in the game," Ralston said. "I thought our kids played stellar defense. We've just got some areas we need to improve."
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