Boys Basketball: Hub defense falters against Ottawa

Pirate senior Cooper leads second-half surge as Rochelle falls 61-58

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ROCHELLE — Ottawa senior Anthony Cooper sparked a second-half surge that flipped the script on the Rochelle Hubs during their Interstate 8 Conference clash Wednesday evening. Cooper made four triples and scored 17 of his game-high 25 points over the final two quarters, lifting Ottawa over Rochelle 61-58 and dropping the Hubs to 3-4 overall and 3-3 in the conference.

“I thought we competed hard throughout the game,” coach Jared Johnson said. “We have to be able to get stops in the half-court if we want to win big games. We struggled in the second half but we’re going to learn from it… We sometimes get too stagnant offensively, especially against ball pressure, and we need to be strong with the ball and get the ball inside.”

Rochelle took the early lead behind five 3-pointers from five different players including senior Garrett Burdin, who hit four in the contest and finished with 14 points. The Hubs led Ottawa 17-9 entering the second quarter, where Cooper found his rhythm with two triples of his own. The Pirates started the second quarter on an 8-0 run, evening the game before Rochelle bounced back with eight unanswered points of its own. Ottawa trailed 28-21 at halftime.

Another Pirate run quickly erased Rochelle’s lead in the second half, as Ottawa scored seven straight points to open the third quarter. Unlike the first half, Rochelle’s man-to-man defense faltered as the Pirates continued to attack the basket. Cooper repeatedly sped past Hub guards to the rim, putting home three layups and drawing multiple fouls to earn free throws.

“I thought we broke down in the second half,” Johnson said. “We talked about the principles that we work on everyday like having weak-side help and when we’re facing a team like Ottawa that runs great offensive sets and spreads us out, we have to stay on the weak side.”

Down 43-39 entering the fourth quarter, Rochelle briefly regained control with a 5-0 run behind a low-post basket from junior forward Zach Sanford, who double-doubled with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and a corner triple from junior guard Adam Kemp, who stepped up with seven of his 10 points in the final quarter. But turnovers proved costly for the Hubs, who gave the ball away 15 times including several instances in the fourth quarter that led to Ottawa layups.

“I thought Zach had a great game,” Johnson said. “I think we sometimes force too many 3-pointers and don’t play inside-out enough. We need to keep working on our ball movement.”

With the Hubs trailing 60-55, Burdin connected on a long-range 3-pointer to bring Ottawa within one possession with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation. Pirate senior Levi Sholders sunk the first freebie before missing the second to allow Rochelle one last chance to tie the game. Ottawa managed one final stop, however, stealing the ball after an inbounds play near the half-court line. Rochelle will host Sycamore on Friday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m.