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Just a shade over two minutes into his team’s game with South Elgin on Thursday night, Metea Valley coach Bob Vozza knew something wasn’t right.
Calling for a multiple substitution change after catching his team falling into a sluggish start, Vozza’s players eventually got the message in a 50-46 victory in Aurora.
“I thought early we did have some presence defensively. We did have a few things go right, but we just couldn’t convert,” Vozza said. “I don’t know if it was focus. I don’t know if it was we were trying to go too fast to get those baskets, but we were fumbling the ball, turning the ball over.
“(We were) doing fine defensively. But we just couldn’t capitalize and it turned into those missed layups early and it continued throughout the night. So, obviously, (we) battled back. Obviously, those guys got the message. But we can’t approach a game like this.”
With just one man — senior Vin Patel — finishing in double figures, Metea Valley (14-7, 7-2 Upstate Eight Valley) used a balanced offensive effort to stay tied for second with Bartlett in the Upstate Eight Valley race — one game back of Neuqua Valley.
Grabbing its first lead of the entire night with 6:24 left in the third quarter, courtesy of a pair of free throws from senior Hayden Barnard, it was the four free throws that Patel converted in the game’s last 10 seconds that helped propel the Mustangs over the top.
Sophomore Bryson Oliver sparked the Mustangs with eight second-half points, including six in the third quarter as the Mustangs finally started to get some traction.
“This game was sloppy the whole game. I played sluggish the whole first half,” Oliver said. “So I felt like I needed to give my team a lead (by) taking it to the basket, get easy points.”
Trayvond Taylor and Barnard added nine and seven points, respectively, for Metea Valley. Its senior leader, Sean Davis, scored five points in the fourth to help stave off the Storm after going scoreless in the game’s first three quarters.
The significance of getting a win without getting a ton of production of Davis — its lone returning starter from a 25-win team in 2011-12 — shows how much Metea Valley’s youthful and somewhat inexperienced cast coming into the year has grown.
“I don’t know (if we could have won a game like this a couple months ago),” Patel said. “Our defensive presence is always there, which is a given. Even back (in the early part of the season), we had it.
“Obviously, a guy like Sean didn’t score in double figures. No one else did. It’s always tough. I think we got the ‘W’ at the end of the day, which is what we went for.”
South Elgin (5-14, 0-8 Upstate Eight Valley) had three men score in double figures, led by Robert Grant’s game-high 12 points, while receiving 11 and 10 from Ryne Lundy and Matthew Smith, respectively.
The game’s first 16 minutes won’t go in the history books for the Metea Valley.
Held off the scoreboard until Conner Archey converted a free throw with 2:45 left on the first-quarter clock, the Mustangs found themselves trailing by as many as nine points in the first half.
Patel kept his team within striking distance in the opening half by scoring seven of his team-high 11 points to lead the Mustangs’ offense.
Battling Metea Valley to seemingly every loose ball and doing a commendable job on the glass, the Storm got contributions from several players in leading for the entire first half.
Grant and Smith scored six points each for the Storm in the first half, while Lundy and Matt McClure chipped in with five points apiece.