OSWEGO – Don Joachim was in the right place at the right time.
The Joliet Central senior snagged an offensive rebound that was heading his way and was fouled as he laid it in, just as the third quarter buzzer sounded.
He swished his free throw. Just like that, the Steelmen were in total control and breezed the rest of the way for a 63-38 Southwest Prairie Conference victory over host Oswego.
“Ryan [Saunders] tipped it back and I think it bounced off someone’s back and I just grabbed the ball,”Joachim said. “I saw the opening and knew we were running out of time so I just went up with it.”
Joliet Central (18-4,10-0) saw its 29-16 halftime lead dwindle to 31-26 midway through the third quarter thanks to Oswego’s 10-2 run to open the second half.
There was no concern, though, at least not with Joachim on the floor.
“We cut it to five there and Jack [Kahoun] and Dylan [Engler] both had 3-pointers that were good looks but both went in and out,” Panthers coach Chad Pohlmann said. “That took the air out of our sails. We lost our momentum and energy and [Joliet Central] is a senior-laden group and understands how to win games.”
When the teams previously played on Jan. 11, the Panthers roared back from a 14-point deficit at the half to tie the game in the third quarter. That wouldn’t happen this time.
Joachim’s jumper with 3:05 left in the third quarter started what proved to be the game-breaking run for the Steelmen.
He followed with the rare feat of back-to-back-to-back three-point plays to give the Steelmen a 42-26 advantage.
Joachim led the Steelmen with 22 points while Cameron Blackmon added 17 points and Denzel Grant chipped in with 13 more off the bench.
“It’s difficult in theory because [Oswego] only has two wins, but it’s basketball and you’ve got to get the kids to stay focused,” Steelmen coach Lawrence Thompson Jr. said. “[Pohlmann] did a nice job of getting his kids ready to go at the start of the game.”
Thompson called a timeout less than two minutes into the game when the Steelmen fell behind 6-0 on a pair of 3-pointers from Jack Kahoun, who scored 14 points for Oswego. The Steelmen responded with a 12-2 run to end the first quarter.
Oswego (2-19, 1-9) was overwhelmed by Joliet Central’s pressure and committed 20 turnovers.
“Their speed made us do some things we’re not used to doing,” Pohlmann said. “I thought we did a nice job on the glass, but let’s be honest, basketball is a make-or-miss game so when you make shots, you kind of get energized a bit, and we missed some shots at the breaking point.”