DIXON – Tangling with Highland usually gives the Sauk Valley men's basketball team a good idea of where it stands each season.
After a 79-60 loss to the visiting Cougars on Tuesday night, the Skyhawks have a way to go before reaching their main rival's level.
"We just didn't play very well," SVCC coach Russ Damhoff said. "Defensively, we didn't cover stuff. Offensively, I felt like early on we missed some good opportunities. We probably gave them a little too much respect. Some of our stuff was wide-open on offense, and we made it harder than it was.
"I think we can play with them, but couldn't play with them tonight. They kind of took it to us."
Sauk Valley (13-9, 3-3 Arrowhead Conference) trailed just 34-28 at halftime, but it was all Highland in the second half. Patrick Onweno (29 points) and Demetrius Tolliver (12 points) ruled inside, and when the Skyhawks tried to slow them, the Cougars found their stroke from outside.
Highland (16-2, 6-0), which has now won 13 consecutive games, connected on all six of its 3-point attempts in the second half, with Lance Rivera hitting half of those.
"Our M.O. against their zone is to get the ball inside," Highland coach Nathan Courtney said, "and then throw the ball outside to our shooters. We did a much better job of that in the second half."
Sauk Valley's lone surge in the second half got it to within 63-49 with just under 9 minutes to play, and the Skyhawks then got a defensive stop. Highland's Ian Matthews came up with a steal, however, and fed Onweno for a thunderous slam.
Onweno, a muscular, athletic, 6-foot-8 sophomore from Detroit, hit 10 of 14 shots in accumulating his 29 points.
"He can play inside, outside – we knew he was a good ballplayer," Damhoff said.
Jalen Riley led Sauk Valley with 17 points, while Magd Owayed added nine. The team played without its top offensive threat, Daven Ottley, who suffered torn ligaments in his right wrist on Jan. 22 at Black Hawk. A decision on his playing status will be made later in the week.
Star of the game: Patrick Onwenu, Highland, 29 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks
Key performers: Jalen Riley, Sauk Valley, 17 points; Demetrius Tolliver, Highland, 12 points, rebounds
Up next: Sauk Valley at Black Hawk East, 7:30 p.m. Saturday