By Michael Wojtychiw
There are some losses that stick with athletes. They can be buzzer-beaters, close losses to rivals or spots in big games, among many other ways.
For Wells and its basketball players, it was their three-point loss to Von Steuben in last season’s Consolation bracket of the city playoffs.
So when the Raiders took the court Feb. 7 at UIC’s Credit Union1 Arena against those same Panthers a year later, revenge was on their mind.
“The message was to play 32 minutes, don’t leave anything on the floor,” Wells coach Michael Horton said. “I felt like the last two weeks, we were a better team. So let’s go out, play as hard as we can and after 32 minutes have no regrets.”
Well, the Raiders got their revenge and some, taking down Von Steuben 66-38 to win their first city championship.
“This is something I’ll never forget,” Wells’ Jamary Hill said.
The Raiders came into the game on a nine-game winning streak, having lost only once in the new year, a two-point loss to conference foe Marshall in the first game of 2023.
For Horton, he sees his team’s success as something that hasn’t been shocking to him or anybody affiliated with the program.
“This is big for the school,” Horton said. “Throughout the years we’ve had some marginal success but we’re not known as a basketball school, so to walk away with the trophy in front of our fans and our families, this is big. It’s a proud moment for me, for all of them.”
The first quarter was actually relatively close, with Wells taking a 17-9 lead after the first period.
It was the middle two quarters that played the huge difference, as it outscored Von Steuben 19-9 in the second and 21-11 in the third.
After being up 17-9 after one, the Raiders went on a 13-0 run to start the second quarter, keeping the Panthers scoreless for the first 3:17 of the quarter and without a field goal for more than the first four minutes.
“Defense…I realized I could do more than score, so after a while I turned it more to playing defense,” Wells’ Tashawn Felton said.
Much like the start of the second quarter, the second half started eerily similarly. The Raiders started on a 10-2 run, allowing just one field goal for the first nearly four minutes.
“My coach told me he really needed a dog out there in the second half,” Hill said. “In the first half, I was kind of relaxed, so in the second half knew I had to bring it up a notch and provide for my team.”
“The guys, they’ve got a lot of quickness and game smarts and over the year have learned defensive concepts,” Horton said. “So we watched film, talked about what we needed to do to slow them down and went out and executed. They made my job a lot easier, we didn’t have to do a lot of substitution or coaching because they prepared for this.”
Hill led all scorers with 25 points, while Felton added 14. Chidubem Nwoye and Kevin Anthony both scored 11 to lead Von Steuben, while teammate Mohammad Neder had 10.
“One of the best things is that we’ve always had balance,” Horton said. “Last year we were settled into just scoring points, but this year they were playing for each other. We shared the ball, we moved the ball and then once we started knocking down shots, I knew it’d be difficult to beat us because that’s multiple players making plays.”
Both teams now are ready for the state playoffs. Von Steuben is the 15th seed in the Class 4A New Trier Sectional and will play regional host Glenbrook North Feb. 22, while Wells is the second seed in a sub-sectional of the Class 2A Christ the King Sectional and will play in the Clemente Regional against Clemente, also on Feb. 22.
“With what happened tonight and our last two regular season games, I feel bad for whoever we play in that first game at state,” Horton said.