Boys Basketball: Second-half lead slips away against Sandwich

Sophomore Carson Lewis holds the ball from Sandwich defender Ali Galvan during the Rochelle Hub varsity basketball game against the Indians on Friday. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Luxton's game-high 24 points not enough as Rochelle falls 68-65

ROCHELLE — An opportunity for the Rochelle Hub varsity basketball team to take down an Interstate 8 Conference foe slipped away Friday evening, when the purple and white held a double-digit lead over the Sandwich Indians midway through the second half of regulation.

Junior Eli Luxton fueled the Rochelle offense during the third quarter, using his 6-foot-4 frame and athleticism on the offensive boards to grab several rebounds that led to putback shots or shooting fouls. Luxton went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the third quarter, where he scored 11 of his team-leading 24 points as the Hubs ballooned their lead to as many as 15 points.

But a critical adjustment from the Indians, who switched to a three-quarter-court press defense late in the third quarter, brought Sandwich back within single digits before the Indians ultimately regained the lead late in the fourth quarter. Backcourt turnovers and missed free-throw attempts down the stretch doomed the Hubs, who fell 68-65 in a game where both teams committed a combined 59 fouls. Rochelle (5-10, 1-5 Interstate 8) will play at Ottawa next Friday at 7 p.m.

“We had Eli running the point during the first half and we made an adjustment at halftime so we could play him off the ball and allow him to score the ball more,” head coach Tim Thompson said. “He’s a really good rebounder and his effort helped us tonight. I thought he left a few things out there tonight and we’re really challenging him as a coaching staff to take that next step in terms of his development on defense and handling the ball. I think he can get there.”

Three Sandwich players finished in double figures including Austin Marks, who made four of his six field goals in the game during the first quarter to spark the Indian offense early. Trailing 19-15 after the first quarter, Rochelle looked for senior Raul Aguirre down low, where the 6-foot-5 forward backed down Sandwich defenders for a series of layups. Aguirre finished with 15 points for the Hubs, who snuck ahead of the Indians 35-32 at the end of the second quarter.

Sophomore Carson Lewis converted back-to-back 3-pointers in the third quarter to help Rochelle maintain a double-digit lead over Sandwich, who trailed 54-43 entering the fourth quarter, where the Indians punished the Hubs with their three-quarter-court press on defense. Sandwich intercepted multiple crosscourt pass attempts and took advantage of loose ball handling from Rochelle, scoring on several easy layups and regaining a one-point lead.

“We did a nice job of hedging their ball screens during the third quarter, but they were hitting mid-range shots during the fourth quarter and they were scrambling with their press,” Thompson said. “We looked intimidated against their press and we couldn’t get the ball to the right spots. We can’t be successful unless we’ve been in those situations and we’re starting to see a lot of pressure late in games. We were throwing the ball away and we were going away from the ball.”

Free throws dominated the final minutes of regulation, as both teams fouled themselves way over the limit and created double bonus chances on each side of the floor. The Hubs were unable to close the Indians out at the line, however, going 9-for-17 (52.9 percent) in the fourth quarter and finishing 28-for-44 (63.6 percent) for the evening. Sandwich went 11-for-15 (73.3 percent) over the fourth quarter and 5-for-6 on its last six attempts to clinch the conference win.

“We beat ourselves tonight and that can’t happen,” Thompson said. “We can’t be afraid to go out there and compete. It’s a learning experience and we have to figure out what we’re scared of and find a way to do better next time. We haven’t shot free throws well all season and if we haven’t done that all season, it’s going to be 10 times tougher to make them in those clutch situations. There’s no hiding from those moments and we have to ask ourselves whether we’re using extra time to put in the work to make those clutch shots or if we’re cutting corners.”

Lewis totaled 10 points and sophomore Cayden Moore added eight first-half points for the Hubs. Chance Lange scored a team-high 18 points and Owen Sheley added 12 points for Sandwich.