This was a night Oswego could have used a 5,000-seat arena.
A co-ed basketball twinbill with two talented girls teams battling to the final minute before deciding the opener followed by their respective boys teams, who had played through two overtimes in their first meeting, getting together with a share of first place in the conference race on the line.
Temperatures outside were in the teens, people packed to the rafters inside turned the Oswego gym into a sauna.
Oswego East committed eight turnovers in the third quarter and was clinging to a 39-37 advantage heading into the final eight minutes. The Wolves then put the Panthers away with a strong finishing kick, sparked by Jay Harris and Wesley Brooks.
Harris had 15 of his game-high 27 points in that final period. For the game, he went 10-for-11 from the floor and six-for-six from the free throw line. Brooks had 10 of his 22 points in the final quarter.
"Jay does not force anything, even at times when he needs to have the ball in his hands to take a shot," said Oswego East coach Buckley. "He takes good shots. And I can't say enough about the floor game he played. He was tough (defensively) on (Ryan) West and we even had him on (6-5 Joe) Kwiatkowski for a while."
Buckley was concerned about his team's matchup problem with the taller Panthers, a strong rebounding team. Oswego has a nice inside-outside combo with strong 3-point shooting that can give opponents' fits, too.
The Wolves held their own on the boards, getting out-rebounded 34-30. Oswego's Andrew Ziemnik had a game-high 13, but only four were on the offensive end. The Panthers grabbed 15 rebounds at the offensive end and scored nine of their 20 baskets on layups, putbacks or shots from close in. They made 3 of 7 from beyond the arc in the first quarter but were just 3 of 13 the rest of the way.
East, meanwhile, did a nice job of attacking the basket, led by Brooks, Harris and Sean Gant with a nice assist from marcus Jones off the bench. The Wolves had 26 field goals and only one was a 3-pointer. Twenty one of their baskets came from close in on layups or drives to the basket.
"I'm really proud of our kids' maturity level, too," said Buckley, whose team built a 10ppoint lead early in the fourth and then protected the ball, played for good shots and made their free throws down the stretch. "Earlier in the year we'd have tried to bury them and might have gotten ourselves in trouble."
East made 26 of 45 shots from the floor while the Panthers managed just 20 of 54.