Neuqua surprises Naperville Central

Christmas was five weeks ago, but Ryan Phillips knows it's always better to give than receive.

Neuqua Valley's senior point guard proved it by handing out 11 assists while directing an offense that turned the ball over just 3 times as the Wildcats resoundingly snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 72-54 DuPage Valley Conference defeat of visiting Naperville Central on Friday night.

"I just tried to involve my teammates, distribute the basketball to my teammates and give them opportunities to score," Phillips said. "It's such a great weight off our backs. We needed to end the nine-game losing streak and get back on track."

Phillips assisted on baskets by Blaise Meredith, Alex Filo and Joe Sieger in the first quarter as the Wildcats (7-15, 3-7) opened a 14-7 lead after seven minutes of play. However, they then suffered through a five-and-a-half minute scoreless drought as the Redhawks (12-8, 6-4) got 8 straight points from Harrison Hallstrom, Justin Jopes and Matt Meier to take a 15-14 lead midway through the second quarter.

A team that hadn't yet won a game in 2016 would have had every reason to hang its heads at that point, but the Wildcats did just the opposite, finishing the half on a 12-3 spurt with 7 points coming from Joe Sieger, including a three-point play with two seconds left that gave Neuqua a 26-18 halftime edge.

"We were doing what Neuqua basketball is supposed to do - play team defense, move the ball and don't turn it over," said Wildcats coach Todd Sutton. "We didn't turn the ball over; that's what happens when you don't, you win."

When Jacob Cushing opened the second half with a basket, Neuqua had its biggest lead at 28-18 and the closest the Redhawks could get after that was 36-29 after a James Kendrick 3-pointer. In fact the longest sustained run Naperville Central made at the Wildcats in the second half lasted all of 45 seconds when Hugh Nanninga opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer followed by Liam Heath's layup that made it 48-39 with 7:14 to play.

From that point on, the Wildcats steadily increased their lead behind a pair of 3-pointers from Meredith and 5 points from Sieger, while eight Wildcats scored in the final quarter.

"We played good defense and overall did a pretty good job on Meier; he usually pops us for 20," Sutton said of Naperville Central's senior guard, who was limited to 11 points after scoring 29 in the teams' first meeting in December.

For Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer, it was a case of watching a team that had perhaps become a little complacent.

"Give Neuqua credit, they played well, but we just weren't ready to play," he said. "I think some things carried over from our poor practice yesterday and sprinkled over into the game tonight. I kind of saw it coming."

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