Changes pay off

  • Written by Ken Karson

Spartans prosper with revamped lineup

In financial terms, paper money trumps change.
But a different sort of change provided a big payday for Oak Lawn last week basketball-wise. In an attempt to give his team an offensive boost, Spartans coach Jason Rhodes shuffled his lineup, inserting Joe Cosenza into it and shifting David Stacy to point guard.
“He has the ball in his hands more now,” Rhodes said of Stacy. “And Cosenza’s a real aggressive kid who’s a good shooter. He gives us just a little more scoring punch.”
And twice last week, Oak Lawn cashed in nicely on Rhodes’ decisions. In their first outing, versus Chicago Christian on Wednesday, the Spartans didn’t actually do much scoring, just enough to squeeze out a 43-42 win over the Knights.

But seeing as how Oak Lawn had gone three days without practice — school was cancelled on both Monday and Tuesday because of frigid temperatures — immediately prior to its matchup with Christian and hadn’t played a game in nine days, Rhodes wasn’t too worried. And sure enough, the Spartans’ attack was in high gear on Friday, as they defeated Shepard 77-74 in double overtime.
The contest was the second in a row between the two South Suburban Conference Red foes that required extra time to decide a winner. A year ago, Oak Lawn bagged a victory in overtime.
“Jason’s got my number,” said Astros coach Tony Chiuccariello, whose club slipped two games behind divisional leader Richards in the loss column.
Speaking of numbers, the most impressive set of those belonged to Stacy, who powered the Spartans (6-11, 2-6) with a double-double of 30 points and 13 rebounds. And he also had a flair for the dramatic — his 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining necessitated the second OT, then another Stacy long ball with 20 seconds left created the winning margin for Oak Lawn.
Shepard did get one more possession, but its shot was forced and the Spartans were able to escape.
“That shot could have easily gone in and we’d still be playing,” Rhodes said. “It was a great high school basketball game, and I would say that even if we had been on the other side [of the final score].
“It was probably the best game we’ve played this season, but their kids didn’t stop playing. They know their roles and I thought their shot selection was very good.”
That didn’t result in a particularly auspicious shooting performance for the visitors, however. While Jacob Littleton and Darren Cohen combined to give the Astros 37 points, Rhodes was pleased that 28 field-goal tries were needed to net 10 baskets between them. Littleton (24 points) did the brunt of his damage at the line, where he went 13-of-14, although it was his hoop at the end of regulation that kept Shepard’s victory hopes alive a while longer.
Chiuccariello credited Oak Lawn’s use of different defenses — a triangle-and-2 and box-and-1 among them — with hamstringing Shepard (8-11, 5-4) at times. Also hurting the Astros later on was the loss of Cohen and Nick Heidinger (10 points), both of whom fouled out during the initial overtime.
One bright spot for Shepard was its low total of seven turnovers, an indication that the Astros were executing well offensively despite their sometimes-sketchy accuracy.
“I thought the Oak Lawn kids did a great job, but I was proud of my kids, too,” Chiuccariello said. “The thing I was most proud of was after the game, when Oak Lawn was celebrating and Cohen got everybody [on our team] to huddle up real quick and told them to keep their heads up. One of my captains did that on his own.
“There’s a lot of even teams in the conference, a lot of parity, and it was a very good basketball game.”
As for the Spartans, Stacy was only part of the story, albeit the most notable element. Josh Prince gave them another double-double man with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Mitch Swatek chipped in 11 points, and Nate Jones finished with eight points, four rebounds and two blocks.
Oak Lawn 43
Chicago Christian 42
Rhodes admitted Wednesday’s clash with the Knights “was a struggle — with the layoff and going without practice, it felt almost like the first game of the year again.” It wasn’t much different for Christian, which held the night’s biggest lead at 23-18 early in the third stanza, but soon was forced to chase.
“We’re making enough plays to be competitive, but not enough good plays to win games,” Knights coach Kevin Pittman said. “We need to get better in longer stretches. We talk about playing solid fundamental basketball, but we still seem to be trying to find our way through this.”
Christian (7-11) did pull even with Oak Lawn once in the second half, doing so at 34-all on a Marcus Parker bucket in the fourth quarter. The next five possessions swung momentum the Spartans’ way, though, as Prince hit three baskets while the Knights were misfiring once from in close and turning the ball over another time.
Blaine Wright’s 3-pointer gave Christian a temporary lift and Bradford Fitzpatrick converted a putback to draw the visitors within 40-39. However, the Knights also failed to take advantage of two Oak Lawn miscues, as they missed another short shot and the front end of a 1-and-1 right after the turnovers.
A series of free throws then gave the Spartans enough cushion to withstand Parker’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
“It just feels right now that we’re snake-bit a little bit,” Pittman said.
Wright (12 points), Jay Spencer (11 points, six rebounds), Parker (seven points) and Fitzpatrick (six points, seven boards) were the big guns for Christian, which shot 45 percent from the floor and played Oak Lawn on pretty equal terms in most categories.
Stacy had 13 points, six rebounds, six steals and three blocks in his initial game as the Spartans’ point guard. Perhaps most satisfying to Rhodes was that Oak Lawn’s turnover total stood at only 13, an occurrence he said was a positive reflection on Stacy’s ability to quickly adjust to his new assignment.
“Christian tried to press, but we were able to handle it,” Rhodes said. “For him to do it on the fly was impressive.”
Cosenza and Swatek both tossed in 10 points to back Stacy, while Prince contributed six points and seven rebounds for the Spartans, who were scheduled to meet Argo and Reavis in SSC Red contests this week.
Christian, which had Saturday’s game with Marian Central Catholic postponed until Feb. 11, confronts Wheaton-St. Francis and St. Edward in a pair of Suburban Christian Conference affairs.

Lincoln-Way Central 72
Shepard 57
Knights coach Bob Curran used to be known for his willingness to have his teams at Thornwood and Lincoln-Way North play at a deliberate pace that was maddening to foes. These days, he favors a much more rapid tempo, which last Tuesday caused problems for the Astros.
Most troublesome to them was that Lincoln-Way Central was being productive on many of its possessions. In the opening period, that meant a 21-6 getaway for the Knights that put them firmly in command.
They did damage both inside and out, as attested to by 64 percent shooting on 3-point attempts (9-of-14) and 53 percent (19-of-36) on two-point tries. Brad Bass (26 points) and Alex Parks (18 points, including four 3s) were Lincoln-Way Central’s headliners.
“Lincoln-Way Central was really effective and they shot the lights out,” Chiuccariello said. “They’re patient -- they will move the ball until they get what they feel is a clean look, and they were shooting 3s like layups.
“Bobby Curran does a magnificent job with his team, and unfortunately we didn’t get the defensive effort we needed.”
Offensively, Shepard was having some difficulties as well. The Astros were guilty of just six turnovers -- one-third as many as the Knights -- but their success rate from the field languished at 34 percent and they were out-rebounded by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

“We have to be patient and reverse the ball and knock down some 3s, but we just couldn’t make a shot,” Chiuccariello said. “We just wanted some kind of positive momentum.”

Shepard finally got some of that in the final quarter, as it outscored Lincoln-Way Central 24-13, but all that did was make the result more cosmetically appealing. Littleton accrued 22 points and Malcolm Lawson added 11 for the Astros, whose only game of this week was played Tuesday at St. Laurence.
Shepard 16 13 12 20 76 - 74
Oak Lawn 8 15 16 22 7 9 - 77
Shepard Scoring: Littleton 24, Cohen 13, Heidinger 10, Haxel 7, Lawson 7, Witherspoon 5, Gorski 4, Smith 3, Ogungbemi 1. Rebounds: Littleton 7, Gorski 6, Witherspoon 6.
Oak Lawn Scoring: Stacy 30, Prince 17, Swatek 11, Jones 8, Samra 7, Nelson 4. Rebounds: Stacy 13, Prince 10. Assists: Samra 5.

Chicago Christian 8 11 11 12 - 42
Oak Lawn 11 7 14 11 - 43
Chicago Christian Scoring: Wright 12, Spencer 11, Parker 7, Fitzpatrick 6, Leo 2, Washington 2, Wolterink 2. Rebounds: Fitzpatrick 7, Spencer 6. Assists: Leo 2, Parker 2, Washington 2.
Oak Lawn Scoring: Stacy 13, Cosenza 10, Swatek 10, Prince 6, Jones 2, Samra 2. Rebounds: Prince 7, Stacy 6. Assists: Samra 4. Steals: Stacy 6.

Lincoln-Way Central 21 19 19 13 - 72
Shepard 6 13 14 24 - 57
Shepard Scoring: Littleton 22, Lawson 11, Heidinger 7, Cohen 6, Witherspoon 6, Gorski 3, Haxel 2. Rebounds: Cohen 4, Littleton 4, Witherspoon 4. Assists: Littleton 3.