After a third place finish at the Chuck Dayton tournament over the winter break, the Bucs were ready to return to NIC-9 play at home against Jefferson Friday night. The home crowd was larger than normal, aided by the band that was playing down in the stands rather than from their normal place in the upper gymnasium. Last year the Jefferson game at Belvidere High School was the biggest game of the year. While the game was not as dramatic as last year’s, there was still plenty of emotion both on court and off.
The Bucs kicked off the game, their offense probing the outskirts of the perimeter, and controlling the ball for almost a minute. Matt Barr connected with Brandon Smaha inside for the first score of the night. Mike Relerford took it inbounds for Jefferson, racing past half court as the Bucs rushed to get set on their defense. With less than five minutes left in the first quarter, Dustin Boardman grabbed a rebound. Brandon Codina found a three point shot to bring the Bucs within one. The Bucs hung in with the J-Hawks. The Bucs lost the ball and Relerford picked it up for a quick dash down the court. Larry King stepped in a stole the ball back, dumping it off to Matt Barr waiting under the basket. Mario Stuckey repaid the favor, grabbing an errant pass and driving to the basket. Codina found another three point shot to tie the game with less than a minute left in the period. Then, Jefferson missed a shot with about 55 seconds left. Brandon Codina got the rebound, passing to Smaha. Matt Barr took it mid-court and the Bucs passed it around the perimeter until Dustin Boardman was fouled. With his two free throws, the Bucs took a 12 – 10 lead as time ran down and the J-Hawks were unable to score on a couple of attempted three point shots before the buzzer.
Jefferson stepped up their aggressive defense and stepped up their inside presence on the offensive side. Brandon Wright tied the game on a second try shot. Brandon Smaha was knocked down under the basket and took a long moment to get up again. Dustin Boardman gave the Bucs a narrow lead on two free throws, but Jefferson tied the game less than ten seconds later when Mario Stuckey drove in for a basket. Tim Ryan gave the Bucs another two point lead, but Stuckey answered with a three point shot to give Jefferson the lead for the first time in the second period. The J-Hawks worked hard to upset the Bucs offense, not allowing a Belvidere rebound for over five minutes. Mike Relerford stole the inbound pass and Brandon Wright was there for a rebound to start the J-Hawks on a 9 – 0 run that threatened to put the Bucs away for good. The Bucs took a time out to regroup. As the last minute and a half ticked away, Brandon Codina and Matt Barr grabbed two boards. They led to two three pointers, one by Brandon Codina and one by Tim Ryan which cut the J-Hawks lead to 4. Jefferson couldn’t get inside in the last 30 seconds and tried a three point shot. Mike Relerford grabbed the rebound, but was unable to get a shot off before the buzzer. At halftime, the score was 28 – 24, J-Hawks.
The Bucs came out in the third period to take control under the basket. Matt Barr drove in, missed, but Ryan grabbed the rebound and dumped it out to Brandon Codina for a three point shot to get the Bucs within one. Jefferson missed a shot. Dustin Boardman grabbed the board, passed to Barr. Ryan, Boardman and Codina all tried to drive inside, but were thwarted by the J-Hawks defense under the basket. Still the Bucs worked inside aggressively. Barr was able to grab three offensive rebounds to give the Bucs several chances to score. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to. Belvidere’s three pointer was the only score – for either team – for the first three minutes of the period. Jefferson took a time out to figure out the Bucs’ new look. After the whistle, Matt Barr stole the inbound pass and passed quickly to Dustin Boardman who was waiting under the basket for a score and a one point lead – 29 – 28. Mike Relerford came right back and scored in the other direction to retake the lead for Jefferson. The Bucs got the ball back on a foul and Chad Schwebke found a shot in the paint to give the Bucs a 31 – 30 lead with a little more than four minutes left in the third. Mike Relerford continued to use his speed advantage to get the ball down the court before the Bucs could counter. He missed a shot, but Mario Stuckey grabbed the rebound and passed it over to Joe Herron who scored. Dustin Boardman found a three point shot and the Bucs took a two point lead with three minutes left in the period. Mario Stuckey tied it up at 34 – 34 twenty seconds later. The Bucs shooting went cold in the last two minutes. The Bucs missed a three pointer and Jefferson picked up the rebound. Enoch Williams made the second attempt shot after Relerford missed to give the J-Hawks a 36 – 34 lead. The Bucs took a full time out with a minute and a half left to try and regain their momentum. The Bucs missed another three point try. Relerford raced down the court again for a lay-up before the Bucs could chase him down and set up their defense. As the last seconds dropped away, the Bucs tried yet another three point shot. It missed, but David Howe came up with the rebound. After a couple of close calls as they passed it around the perimeter, Howe found a shot and hit a three point shot at the buzzer. The crowd came alive as the Bucs finished the third period down by 1.
Emotions were running high as the final period started. Ryan scored inside and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but the Bucs had a one point lead. It didn’t last. Enoch Williams scored in the other direction and drew a foul. He made the free throw and Jefferson was up by 2. While the Bucs weren’t playing inside on offense, they were able to stymie the J-Hawks inside game. Six more fouls were called in the next minute and a half as both teams fought for every shot. Tim Ryan was fouled at the 5:02 mark. He made both shots and the Bucs were tied at 41. He was fouled again and made one of two, giving the Bucs a narrow 42 – 41 lead. Jefferson took a time out to try to cool down as fouls were starting to take their toll. Ryan was fouled yet again and made both shots and the Bucs increased their lead 44 – 41 with 4:10 left. Chad Schwebke made his presence known under the basket as he picked up a board and the Bucs started to use the clock, taking off almost a minute and a half. Jefferson got the ball back, Mike Relerford racing across the court. He passed inside to Joe Herron. Schwebke was there, however, and blocked the shot. A scuffle ensued for the loose ball with both teams ready to fight. Officials jumped in to split the teams apart as the fans taunted each other from across the court. Both Chad Schwebke and Mike Relerford were fouled. The J-Hawks got the ball on a jump ball and they quickly took a time out to cool things down. Relerford scored two to cut the Bucs lead to one with 1:23 left. However, the Bucs took the ball inbound and Brandon Codina drew the foul. He went two for two. David Howe grabbed a key board after Mike Relerford missed a shot. He passed to Brandon Codina who was fouled again. Again, he was perfect from the free throw line. 32 seconds left. Jefferson got the ball in to Mike Relerford. He blew down the court, but got into trouble and lost the ball. Mario Stuckey recovered and made a three point shot to cut the Bucs lead to two. The crowd roared to almost deafening levels. Brandon Codina took the ball inbound and was immediately fouled. Again, he was perfect from the line, two for two. 30 seconds left. Mike Relerford flew down the court with the ball, shot and missed. Matt Barr came up with the rebound and was fouled. Barr went two of two at the line. 21 seconds left. Mario Stuckey got the ball and tried a three pointer. Brandon Codina got the ball back, was fouled and finished up with two more free throws. With ten seconds on the clock, Jefferson were all over the court, but unable to score. The home crowd came to their feet as time ran out and their Bucs were victorious 54 – 46.
Saturday night, the Bucs traveled to Machesney Park. The Bucs were able to beat the last place Huskies 54 – 50.
The Bucs take this weekend off in celebration of the Martin Luther King holiday. They are back home on Friday, January 20 against Freeport. The Pretzels were also perfect last weekend with a pair of wins against Harlem and Rockford East. On Saturday, January 21, the Bucs will take on Hononegah, hoping to avenge a 58 – 50 loss in Belvidere’s home opener. Both games begin at 7:30 pm.