The Chaps Can’t Hold off Prairie State Runs

Carlos Peterson, Sports Editor

The Chaparrals (1-3) entered the game on Saturday looking to get within one game of .500 against the Prairie State Pioneers (2-4). Despite some tough losses early in the campaign, they were determined to get on track. Sometimes determination isn’t enough.

The player the Chaps had to keep their eyes on was sophomore guard Dwayne McNutt, who is fourth in the nation in points and points per game. A young Chaparral team would have to bring their best game defensively in order to win. The Chaps did, however, bring a spark at guard as well in freshman Tyree Spencer, who finished the previous game against Olive-Harvey with 22 points.

The Pioneers won the opening tip but weren’t able to get into their half court set as the Chaps challenged their passes defensively and were able to create a steal on the opening possession. Spencer was like a blur down the court finding Darren Eiland for the first basket of the game.

It appeared the defense had come to play on Saturday as they stole yet another Pioneer pass. This time around, however, Spencer dazzled the fans with a great no-look pass to Jason Peace for an easy layup. Getting back on defense was something that became a struggle early in the game as they gave up an and-1 in transition to have the Pioneers open up scoring.

Spencer’s aggressiveness to get inside would lead to two early fouls on the Pioneers and four easy points at the free throw line. Free throw shooting was a strong point early. The aggressive approach earned Spencer six points in the first six and a half minutes of the game. Some indecision from Peace led to an unnecessary turnover when Coach William Anderson was telling him to be aggressive and take shots that the defense is allowing. That was quickly erased with a Spencer three. He was white hot in the first half. The team used  ball movement to create opportunities for Spencer at the top of the key as a shooter and slasher.

The Chaps laxed on defense towards the end of the half, allowing McNutt to hit every jump shot and perpetuate a huge Pioneer run to end the half. The Chaps seemed to be reeling, and the only way to get under control was to survive until halftime. The Pioneers closed the first half on a 22-13 run, and the Chaps would go into the half down 34 to35.

The Chaps opened the second half determined to right the defensive lapses in the first half. They came out missing their shots, but Darren Eiland did a good job of attacking the boards with relentless effort, creating second chance opportunities for his teammates. The defense forced more turnovers to start the half but were unable to capitalize in transition.

On the other end, McNutt made them pay, going 9-16 from the floor and 3-4 from the free throw line. However, the emergence of forward Travis Easerly created another thorn in the side of a young Chaparral team. Easerly began to heat up in the second half, hitting 5 of 8 from three.

Coach William Anderson was impressed with their performances as well as the team’s.

“It was a collective effort. They did a great job. Everybody made a contribution. We’re still a very young team but we’re looking to improve,” said Anderson of the performance of McNutt and Easerly as well as his team’s response.

Spencer continued to be a problem for the Pioneers late in the game, getting to the line and attacking the Prairie State defense, totalling 10 free throws and making six. It wasn’t enough to slow down an offensive onslaught from Prairie State. Coach Anderson responded with inserting Kyle Singleton as a defensive stopper to engage both McNutt and Easerly. The late move worked as Singleton frustrated the two wing players, and the Chaps were able scrap their way back within six with just over two minutes to go.

A key play down the stretch seemed to break the Chaps. With the game within two and the Chaps poised to get the stop they needed to tie it up or make the go-ahead basket, the Pioneers kicked it out to the top of the key to Easerly, where he hit the dagger three. The Chaps would go on to fall 76-73 after creating some offense late.

This was a tough game to lose, but Anderson remained hopeful.

“We’re gonna stay encouraged,” He said It’s not the end of the world. It’s a long season, and we have a game on Tuesday. I just hope that these are gonna be growing pains for awhile. There are three season conference, regionals and nationals. We have a ways to go.”

The Chaps dropped to 1-4 on the season with the loss to Prairie State. Despite some struggles in this game, the team showed promise in being able to create on both ends of the floor. The next game is against Elgin at home on Nov. 28.