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Neuqua Valley's Trevor Davis shoots a layup over South Elgin's Matthew Smith on Friday. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media
Taking full advantage of its superior quickness on defense, Neuqua Valley clinched the outright championship of the Upstate Eight Valley at home on Saturday with a convincing 62-37 win over South Elgin.
Finishing the Valley schedule with an 11-1 mark (23-2 overall) was cause for celebration in the Wildcats locker room.
“It’s such a marathon and it takes so much to win a conference,” said a happy Neuqua coach Todd Sutton. “It’s not just being the best team. You have to fight through off-the-court stuff, and everyone wants to beat you every night. It’s a great feeling because it’s so difficult.”
The Wildcats didn’t waste time, and jumped out to a 24-5 lead after one quarter against the Storm (5-19, 0-11). They caused nine South Elgin turnovers in the period, and scored time after time on layups created by defense.
“We tried to get in the passing lanes and keep them out of the paint,” said Jabari Sandifer, who scored 13 points in the Wildcats’ balanced effort. “Good defense turns into a lot of shots.”
Jason Lonn and Connor Raridon each drained a three, but Neuqua also had nine layups in the initial stanza — four coming directly from turnovers.
“We wanted to get our offense going with the fast breaks,” said Pat Kenny (game-high 14 points). “Trevor (Davis) and Brad (Mikulecky) had fast-break layups. We want to turn our defense to offense always.”
The Storm regained some composure in the second quarter as Matt McClure (10 points) dropped in a three and South Elgin reduced its turnovers. But Sandifer also drained a long one and Mikulecky converted an assist before the half for a 40-17 Wildcat lead at intermission.
Neuqua built the margin to 53-22 at the end of three, and coasted the rest of the way. Matthew Smith scored six of his team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter for South Elgin, and Elijah Robertson slammed home a putback dunk for the Wildcats near the end of the contest.
“It’s pretty exciting to know that we got the outright championship tonight,” said Davis. “Not having gotten it the last two years makes it a little bit better. It’s finally ours this year.”
“They’re top 25 for a reason,” added South Elgin coach Chaz Taft. “They showed it tonight and they show it every night. We tell our guys that they have to come out like that every night. You are competing every night.”