Boys Basketball: East Aurora pulls upset on Neuqua ValleyEast Aurora's Desmond Gant draws a foul from Neuqua Valley's Darien Miskel in their Upstate Eight game Wednesday in Naperville.
Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 11, 2012 9:49PM
It’s hard to imagine a season tougher than the one East Aurora’s boys basketball team has had to endure this season.
Struggling to replace last year’s veteran roster, a group that included arguably the best player to ever don a Tomcats uniform, Ryan Boatright, East entered Wednesday’s Upstate Eight Valley contest with Neuqua Valley with one win.
But on Wednesday, the Tomcats put the agonizing losses and the rough season behind them, if only for a night. East took down Neuqua, 67-61, behind 29 points from Larry Reynolds and 21 from DeJon Talbert.
“It felt good to beat Neuqua,” said Reynolds, who scored 25 of his points in the second half. “The team stepped up tonight. Everybody. I owe these guys dinner or something. It’s been tough on us. We’re just getting better and better weekly. Tonight, it showed on the court.”
Talbert provided the early spark for the Tomcats (2-14, 1-3) by scoring 14 first-half points, including 4 of 5 shooting from three-point range. That helped East trail only 28-27 at the half.
“I challenged him after the last game,” East coach Wendell Jeffries said. “He hasn’t been playing that well because teams kind of gear their defense toward him. I challenged him and told him that he has to work harder to get his shot. He accepted the challenge and responded well.”
Despite missing all 10 of its three-point attempts in the first half, Neuqua (10-7, 2-4) managed to stay in the lead at the half with 11 bench points to offset the lack of accuracy from the arc. But coach Todd Sutton was still far from happy going into the break.
“We thought we were outplayed in the first half,” Sutton said. “They played harder and tougher, better defense. We just wanted to out play them in the second half. Obviously, we didn’t do that.”
Reynolds came alive in the second half. He scored nine points during an 11-3 run to start the third that gave East a 38-31 lead, a lead the Tomcats would never relinquish.
“He was unstoppable,” Sutton said. “We couldn’t guard him. He made us look silly tonight.”
Two steals from sophomore Desmond Gant, in only his fifth varsity game, sparked a 9-2 run to end the quarter that staked East to a 47-39 lead.
“Once I saw that it was in reach and we had it, a big rivalry game, I was just ready to finish everything,” Reynolds said.
Neuqua Valley normally shoots about 37 percent from three-point range as a team. Wednesday, the Wildcats hit only 1 of 20 from the arc, missing their first 16 attempts as a team. Junior Pat Kenny kept them afloat with 24 points, but the starting trio of Peter Catchings, Jabari Sandifer and Tyler Sutton combined for only five points, all coming in the game’s final two minutes.
“We’ve been playing this poorly for quite a while,” Todd Sutton said. “It’s definitely not a wake-up call. We’ve been playing bad basketball.”