Romeoville shows championship composure in win against Farragut

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Romeoville’s DeAndre Heckard (3) gets fouled by Farragut’s Demetrius Schaffer (4) as he goes to the basket. Wednesday 12-27-17. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Romeoville is one of the state’s most tantalizing teams. The No. 9 Spartans have all the pieces: talented guards and wings and a big. But they don’t have much experience with winning.

The backbone and composure required to win holiday tournaments and sectional titles is beginning to emerge. Romeoville won a big game in a hostile environment at Joliet West last week and on Wednesday in Richton Park the Spartans beat Farragut 65-52 in the quarterfinals of the Big Dipper Tournament.

“I feel like we are battle-tested now,” Romeoville coach Mark Howard said. “We took a hard hit early in the season. We know where we made our mistakes and we are trying to get smarter with how we read the pressure.”

The hard hit Howard is referring to is Romeoville’s 21-point loss at home to Bolingbrook. The Spartans picked up a pair of technical fouls for hanging on the rim in that game, destroying some serious momentum they had built up.

Romeoville trailed 13-2 early against Farragut, but led by ten early in the fourth quarter. The Admirals started jawing and bumping Romeoville senior Eddie Creal after a foul call. Howard looked at Creal and pointed to his brain.

“That meant keep calm, don’t feed into that stuff, we are winning,” Creal said.

“Eddie is a smart ballplayer, he gives us a level of toughness that we needed,” Howard said. “He’s a kid that is not going to back down from a challenge and I love that about him. But I wanted to let him know that we had the game in hand and not to get pulled into anything that was pointless. He listened and responded.”

Creal scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. DeAndre Heckard led Romeoville with 23 points and eight rebounds.

Dontia Johnson, the Spartans’ 6-7 center, had seven points and five rebounds. He scored a big basket to close the third quarter and then hammered home a dunk early in the fourth quarter.

“He’s the fireman,” Creal said. “When he gets started everyone else gets going. When he gets a bucket we get excited, play harder and just go up a level.”

When Johnson is contributing the Spartans (12-1) look like a top five team.

“We are a better team when [Johnson] gets going,” Howard said. “We need to do a better job of establishing him around the basket. He got in early foul trouble and that kind of slowed him down but he was big defensively, he was rebounding and changing shots. We just have to get him more touches around the basket.”

Sophomore Reggie Strong led Farragut (5-6) with 17 points and eight rebounds and junior Aaron Strong added 17 points. Junior Jonathan Jones had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Romeoville will play the Thornton-Rich South winner in the semifinals on Thursday. Creal made no secret about what he wants out of the tournament.

“Our main goal is to play Morgan Park in the championship and hopefully win this tournament,” Creal said.

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