Ugly good enough for Neuqua vs. Harlan

ELGIN, Ill. -- Neuqua Valley junior Darien Miskel had no misconceptions on how his team’s 39-34 win over No. 16 Harlan looked for anyone watching Tuesday’s game at the Elgin holiday tournament.

It was ugly, and he was OK with that. Not that he and his teammates were proud of winning in that fashion, but it didn’t really matter to them.

Their only care all week has been winning and advancing, and that’s exactly what they did again on Tuesday.

Neuqua Valley (6-5) will play again in the tournament semifinals on Wednesday.

“In a tournament, it’s no matter what it takes,” Miskel said. “That’s what they told us before we even played our first game. No matter how you win, whether it’s bad, it’s ugly, we still just need to advance to the right. We’re trying to get to the championship.”

While its offense struggled for most of the game, Neuqua Valley’s man-to-man defense was its saving grace against the previously undefeated Falcons (4-1). Neuqua Valley came out and held Harlan scoreless in the first quarter. The Falcons didn’t score on 13 first-quarter possessions and went 0-for-15 from the field.

Neuqua Valley kept Harlan under wraps in the second quarter, too, and extended its lead to 21-6 by halftime.

“I thought we were in good position, good helping position,” Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said. “I thought we fronted the post well. I thought we boxed out and hit the boards very well. That’s been a problem for us.”

The Wildcats appeared they were going to win with ease, taking a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, but that wouldn’t be the case. Harlan’s full-court defense along with Neuqua Valley’s struggles at the free-throw line created a closer game than Sutton would have liked.

Neuqua Valley committed seven turnovers and shot 4-of-11 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Harlan closed within 38-34 with 22.6 points left before holding on for good.

“We got to make some free throws,” Sutton said. “It would be a blowout if we had made some free throws, but we didn’t. We have some things to work on.

“[Winning] is the only goal. We won ugly [in the first round.] We won ugly tonight. We want to play, move to the right and keep playing.”

Harlan’s Deonte Johnson (six points) and Blaine Goodall (12 points) combined for 11 points in the fourth quarter. Anthony Knight had six points, eight rebounds and two steals for Harlan.

Tyler Sutton (10 points) and Miskel (nine points) led Neuqua Valley.