Shortly after Plainfield East’s five seniors were photographed under the basket to conclude the Senior Night ceremony, the Bengals came out and played a less than emotional first quarter.
With the home crowd hoping to see Plainfield East win the Southwest Prairie Conference title outright Thursday night, the Bengals fell behind 14-11 to Plainfield Central going into the second period.
“It was a slow start, but we just had to keep playing hard, keep our heads on straight,” Aaron Jordan said. “Things weren’t going like I wanted them to, so I had to get down and take over.”
The Illinois-bound junior scored eight of his game-high 25 points in the second quarter as East built a 30-22 halftime lead on its way to a 58-42 win and second conference title in three seasons.
“It’s a great feeling,” senior guard Nick Novak said. “Last year we lost our first regional game and we made it the team goal since Day 1 to get a conference championship.”
East (18-9, 11-3) went ahead for good when Wynston Wright made two free throws for a 19-17 lead with 5:28 left in the first half.
Josh Smith’s steal and three-point play was followed by a transition layup off a Jordan rebound that put East ahead 28-19.
“We came out a little timid, but once we got it going, we really got it going,” Novak said. “We got it started late, but it’s better late than never.”
Novak contributed eight points, including a third-quarter steal and drive for a 35-25 lead, East’s first double-digit margin. East went ahead 51-33 on a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter that included a three-pointer by James Claar and two Novak jumpers.
Myles Ward, Claar and Smith each finished with five points. Smith also had nine rebounds.
“Everyone did a great job contributing,” Novak said.
“I’m really excited for our seniors,” East coach Branden Adkins said of Tristin Esker, Darrick Gardner, Ward, Novak and Smith. “I told them throughout the week it’s a unique opportunity on your Senior Night to be able to clinch a conference championship.”
Plainfield Central (13-13, 7-7) was led by Logan Velasquez (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Robbie Brooks (11 points, five rebounds, two blocks).
“We played hard. A lack of execution in the end of the third, start of the fourth quarter hurt us,” Central coach Steve Lamberti said. “We’ve picked it up a little lately, got some big wins under our belt. We wanted this one.”
The postseason for Plainfield East starts Monday against WW South in the quarterfinals of the Bengals’ Class 4A regional. The winner will face Geneva in the Wednesday semifinal.
“It’s a big thing, it’s real big,” Jordan said of the conference title. “We’ve got momentum going into the regional. This was one of our goals for the season, conference champs, and we did it.”