Chargers stay on high road, rout Joliet West
Taming these Tigers required nothing more than a decent shooting eye and an ability to absorb plenty of contact.
Joliet West’s game plan Friday night against Stagg was pretty basic: be physical. But instead of throwing the Chargers off-balance, the strategy merely set the hosts up time and time again at the charity stripe.
A total of 29 fouls were whistled on the Tigers — Stagg coach John Daniels insisted the number probably could have been much higher — and that resulted in 32 free-throw opportunities for the Chargers. Eight of those tosses were misfired in the second quarter, which, when combined with a missed dunk and layup, allowed Joliet West to remain within five of Stagg at halftime after having trailed 18-6 early in the contest.
However, a Max Strus 3-pointer began the third period in fine fashion for the Chargers, and they eventually distanced themselves from the Tigers. With Strus and fellow senior Kevin White giving it a solid 1-2 scoring punch, Stagg pulled away for a resounding 74-54 SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue triumph that kept it rolling.
After enduring a brief mid-season dip, the Chargers (15-5, 4-3) have now won three in a row and seemingly regained a bit of the swagger they possessed at the outset of the campaign, when they reeled off eight consecutive victories.
“Our chemistry is better, [actually] the best it’s been all year,” Daniels said. “We’ve been moving the ball better and it’s good to get back to that style — that’s who we are.”
The style to which Daniels referred was Stagg’s signature blue-collar look, a program staple for years. For a short while, he felt his athletes had abandoned that approach, which led to some of the struggles.
“We really don’t have ‘bad’ losses [score-wise],” Daniels said. “It was just the way we lost — we didn’t do what we were supposed to. I think [our players] thought they were a little bit better than they [really] were and didn’t have to play defense anymore.
“We’ve got to keep looking forward and not repeat what we did then.”
Daniels provided an example of the improved Chargers. During one third-period sequence, both Anthony Gardner and Nick Sims sprawled out in an effort to keep Joliet West from retrieving a loose ball. White, who had initially knocked it away from a Tigers player, eventually got it back and fed Jeff Goral for what became a three-point play.
“That’s one of those things you like to see: two guys diving on the floor,” Daniels said.
If Joliet West hadn’t already become somewhat discouraged by the exploits of Strus (19 points) and White (18), that series of events likely did the trick. Over the last 16 minutes, the Tigers never got as close to Stagg as they had been at intermission and fell in arrears by as many as 24 points.
A major part of the Chargers’ second-half weaponry was the aforementioned foul shots, just two of which were missed beyond the second stanza. Daniels wasn’t at all surprised by the methods Joliet West employed to try to disrupt the game’s flow.
“The way Joliet plays is they run 15 kids at you,” he said. “They’re fast and physical, and their philosophy is they’re going to hack the [heck] out of you. After a while, officials don’t want to keep calling fouls, so something will get overlooked and there’ll be a basket in transition going the other way.
“Joliet’s athletic and they’ve got some talent. They try to generate a fast-tempo game, but we’re a very tough team to press right now.”
While Strus and White carried a hefty share of Stagg’s offensive load, Daniels still called the outcome “a good team win.” He specifically cited Goral for contributing some key baskets, Gardner and Sebastian Kolpak for giving the Chargers a presence on the glass, and freshman John Contant (four points, three assists) for displaying more savvy than his age would indicate possible.
“This didn’t faze him -- he played like he belonged,” Daniels said of Contant. “We need that little spark he gave us. And our bigs are really playing well and doing a lot of things, [like] blocking a shot here or getting to a loose ball there.”
Stagg, which had SWSC Blue dates with Homewood-Flossmoor and Lincoln-Way East on tap for this week, was scheduled to meet Oak Lawn last Saturday afternoon in a makeup of a previously postponed nonconference affair. However, the game was deep-sixed for a second time by bad weather.
“I like playing them back-to-back with Joliet because their styles are similar,” Daniels said. “I wanted to get the game in. We had the gym set up, we were doing a walk-through and the kids were ready to go, but Oak Lawn decided to cancel at 9:30.
“I’ve never heard of an away team canceling, but it is what it is. I still hope we can play this game sometime.”
Joliet West 54
Stagg Scoring: Strus 19, White 18, Goral 13, Gardner 11, Contant 4, Kolpak 4, El Hannouny 2, Sims 2, Stratinsky 1. Rebounds: Strus 8.