DeKALB – Tyler Bantz said he couldn't help but notice the season for the DeKalb girls basketball team ended in a very on-message manner.
Bantz said the No. 19 Barbs had struggled throughout the year in the fourth quarter, and Monday was no exception in a 51-39 loss to No. 13 Conant in the first round of the Class 4A DeKalb Regional.
"It's kind of like we did all season – we played a team close and they just made the plays down the stretch and we didn't," Bantz said. "That's kind of the story of the season."
The Barbs (7-23) led 34-33 heading into the fourth, but scored five points and shot 0 for 12 from the floor in the final eight minutes. The Cougars (10-15) made just one field goal in the fourth, but shot 13 of 16 from the line in the quarter.
Bantz said the team had breakdowns in the fourth quarter on both ends in the last quarter. They were down 41-38 with 2:18 left.
"I think in the fourth quarter that's kind of been our m.o.," Bantz said. "We get kind of tight. Our fourth quarter has been our lowest scoring quarter of the year. So it's a little bit of nerves, maybe a little bit of not having been there before."
Sophomore Ashley Nelson – who finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and five steals – said the fourth quarter didn't go as planned.
"I thought we played really hard but couldn't pull it out in the end," Nelson said. "I think we just tried to take it too quick and push it too hard."
Nelson finished the year strong for the Barbs. Bantz said the team kept working in more and more plays designed to get Nelson the ball.
"We put some stuff in that would get her the ball and get her touches," Bantz said. "Near the end of the year she made a lot of great progress. She's kind of undersized for a true post player, but she's quicker than people realize and has a nice mid-range shot. We have to refine some stuff, but next year we're going to expect a big jump."
Rocky Mills finished her DeKalb career with a game-high 18 points to go with seven rebounds and six steals.
Bantz said the senior point guard will be sorely missed.
"She gave us everything," Bantz said. "It's what we've come to expect of her."
Even with Mills graduating, Bantz said the team is young – the barbs started two sophomores and a freshman this year – and he's optimistic heading into his second year as the head coach.
The team has had three coaches in the past three seasons.
"The good thing is they won't be starting brand new once again, which they have for the last three years," Bantz said. "So it will be nice to have a little bit of consistency. They'll know what the expectations are and stuff like that. And a full summer slate, so that will also be nice."
Nelson said she's also optimistic about next season. Bantz added he wished the Barbs could have had a big upset or something to hang their hats on for the season.
"The tough thing is we didn't get that key signature win that showed the girls yes, what we're doing is really working," Bantz said. "But I think they bought in. They obviously never gave up, never. They busted their butts down to the very end. We played a lot of teams very, very close."
By the numbers: Nelson and Mills scored all but 10 of DeKalb's points. Sanaa Finner had seven. The Cougars bench outscored the Barbs backups 8-0. Cate Fitzgerald led the Cougars with 11 points and Hannah Shulman had 10. the Cougars had a 39-30 edge on the boards, with Stephanie Mazuruk grabbing 13 and Taylor Cyr seven.
Beyond the stats: The Barbs trailed by as much as eight early, but went into the half with the lead thanks to a 13-0 run in the second.
They said it: "I felt good about it because we didn't play very good in the first half," Bantz said. "We gave up 14 open 3s in the first half and they only made two. I was a little nervous about that. I don't think they made a ton in the second half, but our defense in the fourth quarter wasn't great."
Up next: Conant will face No. 4 Wheaton North in a semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday.