AURORA – A double-digit loss at the hands of an unbeaten team did not deflate the Geneva boys basketball team.
On the contrary, encountering a high-caliber opponent whet the Vikings’ appetite for more such opportunities after Wednesday’s 56-43 loss to Neuqua Valley in the first round of pool play at the East Aurora Holiday Tournament.
“I’ll tell you this, I would love another chance at Neuqua,” Vikings coach Phil Ralston said. “I’d even take two more chances at them because I believe that they did a nice job of disrupting what we do, but I’d like to be at full strength and be able to go toe-to-toe with those guys.”
In a matchup of teams that were a combined 21-1 coming into play, Geneva was unable to handle the defensive heat supplied by a Neuqua team that was “really getting up in your face,” according to Geneva junior guard Chris Parrilli.
“They’re a very good defensive team, give a lot of credit to them, but we just need to be more focused and more disciplined with the ball,” Parrilli said. “Be more patient, make harder cuts and set better screens.”
As Ralston referenced, the Vikings (11-2) are down three injured regulars. On Wednesday, they seemed to especially miss junior point guard Cam Cook, who re-injured his deep thigh bruise in Saturday’s win against Maine East. Cook would have provided another primary ball-handler for the Vikings, who piled up 26 turnovers on the afternoon.
Neuqua (11-0) also was effective in limiting Geneva senior center Connor Chapman, who has been enjoying an excellent season. Chapman had a subdued, eight-point outing, and did not attempt a field goal in the two middle quarters. That was partially attributable to foul trouble that limited his availability.
“We’ll cut him some slack, but he needed to be a little bit more active offensively, especially away from the basket,” Ralston said. “We know that he can do a better job than this, and in games like this where you’re going to be playing a really good team, we expect more from him.”
Despite 15 first half turnovers, Geneva trailed only 24-19 at halftime. The Vikings took an 18-17 lead with 3:10 left in the second quarter on a step-in jumper from junior Jason D’Amico, but went cold the rest of the half.
The Vikings turned the ball over three straight times to start the second half but remained within striking distance thanks to scrappy play on the defensive end and on the glass.
“Both teams struggled offensively, maybe because both teams had really good defense,” Neuqua coach Todd Sutton said.
Four consecutive free throws by senior Mike Trimble helped the Vikings move within single digits early in the fourth quarter, and Chapman’s three-point play trimmed the Wildcats’ advantage to 44-37 with 4:57 left in the game.
But the Wildcats slapped the Vikings with a 7-0 spurt to take command. Neuqua junior Elijah Robertson came off the bench to lead the Wildcats with 13 points.
Sophomore forward Nate Navigato paced Geneva with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Both of Geneva’s losses this season have been by double digits, the other coming to St. Charles East. Parrilli said the Vikings enjoyed challenging themselves against an unbeaten team.
“It’s a lot more fun and it shows you a lot more of where you’re at as a team,” Parrilli said. “It’s always more fun to play against better competition. Hopefully we can see that Neuqua team again later on in the year.”
Today, Geneva will settle for defending 3A state champion Peoria, which pulled away in the fourth quarter Wednesday to down Aurora Central Catholic.
ACC will face Neuqua after the 3 p.m. Geneva-Peoria matchup.