Coach unfazed by Spartans’ slow start
Winning isn’t the only thing for Jason Rhodes.
Sure, the Oak Lawn coach prefers it to losing, but at least in the early portion of the Spartans’ 2013-14 schedule, Rhodes isn’t using it as his sole measuring stick. With an inexperienced roster at his disposal, Rhodes knows that practicing patience is vital.
“The reality is, we’ve got four seniors, but only one played much [last year], so there’s a learning curve,” he said. “They just have to get used to playing at this level. They’re going to get there, but it’s nothing like they’ve seen before.
“I’m less concerned about the outcome right now than the [developmental] process. We’re getting better every time out.”
Evidence of that was presented on Friday, when Oak Lawn hosted Lemont in a South Suburban Conference crossover game. The Indians’ lineup included 3-point specialist Mike Wisz, who drilled 10 long balls in one outing last season.
Wisz managed only seven points against the Spartans while being guarded primarily by Mitch Swatek, and Lemont as a team was held below 50. According to Rhodes, his club is “getting back to playing Oak Lawn defense.”
Unfortunately for the Spartans on this occasion, the Indians’ 49-point output was still enough to get the job done. Despite a 7-of-16 exhibition from 3-point range, Oak Lawn’s offense had just enough holes in it to pin the hosts with a 49-45 defeat.
At the root of the Spartans’ fall was a nightmarish third quarter. Kenneth Richardson’s layup in the last four seconds of the second stanza had given Oak Lawn a 28-26 halftime lead, but the Spartans proceeded to go 0-of-10 from the floor when play resumed.
A free throw saved Oak Lawn from taking a third-period goose egg, but that lone point wasn’t of much help in enabling the Spartans to retain a lead. Interestingly, Oak Lawn’s defense was rock solid at that same juncture as it limited Lemont to six points and, thus, kept the Spartans in the chase.
With Justin Schutt (14 points, including four 3-point baskets) and David Stacy (12 points) spearheading the effort, Oak Lawn stayed within three points during much of the fourth quarter before one sequence knocked it backward. After a Spartan got called for an intentional foul, the Indians hit two free throws and then a 3-pointer to extend their edge to eight.
The margin stood at 45-35 when Oak Lawn made one last charge. However, it was only able to climb back within three before Lemont nailed down the verdict in its favor.
Also assisting the Spartans’ comeback quest was improved execution. After committing 23 miscues three nights earlier versus Tinley Park, Oak Lawn dropped that number to a more-palatable 16.
“We did a better job of taking care of the ball,” Rhodes said. “We’re starting to see [good] signs.”
Tinley Park 60
Oak Lawn 48
There was less for Rhodes to like last Tuesday, beginning with the Spartans’ turnover total. Nine of their 23 mistakes occurred in the fourth quarter and allowed the Titans to easily erase the 33-32 advantage with which Oak Lawn (0-4, 0-3) had entered the final frame.
Seventeen of the Spartans’ turnovers resulted from Tinley Park steals.
“They turned up the pressure and we really didn’t handle it very well,” Rhodes said. “Seventeen steals is ridiculous, and our turnovers were [largely] of the live-ball variety. While [the Titans] were throwing the ball out of bounds, we were throwing it to them.
“And they were beating us on the boards. They were bigger than us, which is going to be a common theme for us this season, and they had 18 second-chance points. We had zero.”
Overall, Tinley out-rebounded Oak Lawn 35-21 and grabbed 17 of those off the offensive glass. That strong board work enabled the Titans to pretty much negate their 22 miscues.
Before the game went completely south on the Spartans, Swatek’s 3-pointer brought them into a 36-all deadlock. That was to be Oak Lawn’s last real high point, however.
“I think they wore us down,” Rhodes said. “We’re trying to build a bench, and in retrospect I probably should have gotten more guys in there [later on], but we were rolling along and we just leaned on the guys [already on the court].
“We need to get more out of our bench. [The reserves] know that and they’re trying, and on Friday guys like Kenny Richardson, Spencer Smith and Joe Cosenza stepped up to a greater degree.”
Cosenza was absent from Tuesday’s game because of a death in his family. Stacy (12 points, nine rebounds, three assists), Josh Prince (11 points) and Ibrahim Samra (10 points, four assists) carried most of the load for the Spartans against Tinley.
Oak Lawn met Oak Forest in another SSC crossover tilt this past Tuesday, and it will participate in the East Aurora Tournament beginning next Wednesday.
Tinley Park 11 15 6 28 - 60
Oak Lawn 10 9 14 15 - 48
Oak Lawn Scoring: Stacy 12, Prince 11, Samra 10, Schutt 5, Nelson 4, Swatek 3, Jones 2, Norris 1. Rebounds: Stacy 9. Assists: Samra 4.
Lemont 10 16 6 17 - 49
Oak Lawn 13 15 1 16 - 45
Oak Lawn Scoring: Schutt 14, Stacy 12, Swatek 7, Prince 6, Richardson 2, Samra 2, Smith 2. Rebounds: Prince 7. Assists: Samra 4.