Fast-paced Chargers regain winning ways
Stagg ran away from its troubles last week.
Not that the Chargers’ basketball world had crumbled around them, but there was a definite sense of unrest. Consecutive SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue losses to Lockport and Sandburg had set the backward thinking in motion, and among those who were questioning what exactly was happening was Stagg coach John Daniels.
A few lackluster practice sessions by his guys mixed in between those two contests did nothing to alleviate Daniels’ fears that the Chargers could very easily render meaningless a superb start to the season. So he chose to address his points of concern directly to the players.
“We talked a lot about chemistry and teamwork,” Daniels said. “And we went back to some fundamentals and drills we do at the beginning of the season, like footwork drills.”
Those Stagg feet got a workout against both Argo and Joliet Central in a pair of fast-paced matchups on Tuesday and Friday, respectively, and Daniels couldn’t have been happier about that turn of events.
“Teams that have had success against us play more of a plodding style,” he said. “We like to get up and down the floor, so it’s tough to press us. Playing teams like Argo and Joliet is good because they let us run our stuff, so this was a good week to get healthy.”
And that’s exactly what the Chargers (14-5, 3-3) did as they romped past both the Argonauts (60-44) and Steelmen (80-66). The first of those contests was held on Stagg’s Senior Night and, appropriately, it was a few upperclassmen making the difference for the Chargers.
While having both Kevin White and Max Strus be influential figures was nothing new, the same could not be said of Sebastian Kolpak. But with a series of passes from the former duo setting him up for scoring opportunities, Kolpak erupted for 16 points, half of which were at the heart of a 20-7 blitz by Stagg in the third quarter that established a comfortable 44-30 advantage for it.
Between them, White and Strus dished out a total of 11 assists, which went along with that same number of rebounds and 21 combined points. Nick Sims supplied the Chargers with 11 points, while yet another senior, Anthony Gardner, collected a team-best nine rebounds.
“I’m real proud of our seniors,” Daniels said. “They all got to play and all but one scored.”
Even more satisfying to Daniels was Stagg’s improvement in execution. On average, the Chargers have been about even in assists and turnovers per game, a figure their coach previously deemed unsatisfactory. Here, Daniels saw his players dish out 18 assists while committing only eight miscues.
That led to a 53 percent success rate from the floor, one of Stagg’s best showings of late. Three nights later, it was increased significantly.
“We had some real good practices and we played four of our better quarters this season — the third one against Argo and the first three against Joliet Central,” Daniels said. “This season could have gone one of two ways, and it was good to see the kids respond the way I hoped.”
Joliet Central 66
Had it not been for an offensive explosion in the final period, the Steelmen would have been flat-out crushed by the Chargers Friday night. As it was, Stagg still prevailed with little difficulty.
Those first three stanzas that Daniels referenced featured Stagg amassing 62 points, 46 of them prior to halftime. Three-pointers by Sims and Strus were part of a 26-point uprising in the opening quarter, but just as big a contributor to the Chargers’ attack were baskets garnered on the run.
“We must have gotten at least 16 points in transition [during the game],” Daniels said. “They let us run and we ran them right out of the gym. It sort of felt like last year.
“The key to playing a team like Joliet is you have to get a defensive stop so you can get the ball in transition; if they score, they have time to set up their defense. They were giving us high-percentage shots and we were rolling.”
Illustrative of Stagg’s efficiency was its blistering 69 percent rate of accuracy from the floor, easily its finest shooting exhibition of the campaign. The Chargers recorded 17 assists as a team and all but five of their 17 turnovers came in the second half, by which time the victory had been secured.
Both Strus and White popped in 22 points for Stagg, and they also teamed up to distribute 14 assists. Added to Strus’ points and assists were five rebounds, four steals and a big zero in the turnover department. Jeff Goral pitched in 18 points to the Chargers’ potent attack.
Daniels wasn’t shocked to see Stagg in peak form, nor was he stunned when Joliet went on a fourth-quarter rampage and chalked up 32 points to make things at least remotely interesting.
“Joliet comes at you in waves — 13 different kids played for them in the first half, and most of them scored,” Daniels said. “When you can get something off the bench when you’re in foul trouble, it changes the way you coach.”
After meeting Joliet West in an SWSC Blue contest on Friday, the Chargers will make up a nonconference game with Oak Lawn on Saturday.
Argo 8 15 7 14 - 44
Stagg 18 6 20 16 - 60
Stagg Scoring: Kolpak 16, White 14, Sims 11, Strus 7, Contant 2, El Hannouny 2, Gardner 2, Kelly 2, Kwiatkowski 2, Stratinsky 2. Rebounds: Gardner 9, Strus 6. Assists: White 6, Strus 5.
Stagg 26 20 16 18 - 80
Joliet Central 10 14 10 32 - 66
Stagg Scoring: Strus 22, White 22, Goral 18, Gardner 7, Sims 7, Kolpak 4. Rebounds: Gardner 6, Strus 5. Assists: Strus 8, White 6. Steals: Strus 4.