ROMEOVILLE – Eighteen games into the 2012-13 boys basketball season, Joliet Catholic senior Shakar Washington might have finally found himself, and his game, in the second half Saturday morning.
The 5-foot-11 guard – nicknamed “Shaq” – actually went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the third quarter and then came out firing on all cylinders in the fourth, driving to the basket like Mario Andretti.
It’s that word again.
“Confidence,” Washington said with a nod. “Like coach said in the locker room after the game, we had more confidence. Everyone played with more confidence and we attacked more. If we would have played like that as a team in the first half, who knows what the outcome would have been?”
Unfortunately for JCA, the outcome of the consolation fifth-place game at the Romeoville Christmas Classic was decided by halftime, with Little Village jumping to a 30-10 lead en route to a 63-43 decision.
However, Washington led the Hillmen (4-14) by scoring 17 of his season-high 20 points in the second half. He shot 6-of-11 overall, including 5-of-7 in the final two quarters, and made 7-of-7 from the line.
Senior forward Ryan Peter added 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals for JCA, which would be undone by shooting 2-of-20 in the first half. The Phoenix (8-6) hit 13-of-26 and also had a 20-10 rebounding edge.
“And 10 of them were layups,” Joliet Catholic coach Joe Gura said of the missed chances in the first half. “I think we were very sluggish in the first half and we were leery of their quickness and athleticism.
“When we decided, after a nice chat at halftime about what we needed to do, to attack their quickness and athleticism we responded very well. We played much better as a team, playing them to a standstill.”
Although Peter converted a drive for a conventional 3-point play and a putback to cut the halftime deficit to 30-15, Little Village took a 44-26 lead into the fourth. And that is when Washington surged.
On the heels of a drive for another 3-point play, Washington drained a trifecta of drives along with a swished 3-pointer. The closest JCA came was 44-25, 58-41 and 59-43, all on Washington baskets.
It looked like a Shaq attack.
“I just came out more aggressively and played with my back to the wall with all I had,” Washington said. “I was in a rhythm and definitely played with more confidence. I haven’t had the best year, but to play like this could be a good boost for me and my game. Our whole team plays better with confidence.”
“Absolutely, I think so too,” Gura said of it being Washington’s best performance of the season. “Shaq has been up and down this season, but we need him to be up. We’re a better team when he is up.”
Likewise, JCA is a better team now, having completed an eight-day stretch with a 3-3 record.
“We had a wonderful tournament,” Gura said. “We gained all that experience playing against the pressure that was put on us and the athleticism. All of the teams that we played were athletic teams and I think we’re better for it. We learned how to go out and play and, wow, it makes a big, big difference.”
NOTES: The schedule does not get any easier for Joliet Catholic. The Hilltoppers’ next four opponents are Aurora Central Catholic, Benet, Lemont and Marian Catholic … Paced by Washington, the Hillmen closed 13-of-13 at the free-throw line against Little Village, which shot 49.1 percent (27-of-55) from the floor and cranked six 3-pointers. Edmond Corey Reed led with 24 points on 10-of-22 shooting, with a smooth 4-of-12 from three ... JCA was outrebounded 40-24 … Junior forward Jimmy Elias, playing with the flu, topped JCA in rebounds with 5 and both Peter and Washington contributed a pair of assists.