Strus carries Chargers past Lockport
It’s no secret that Stagg’s basketball fortunes are tied tightly to Max Strus.
Simply put, the Chargers usually go only as far as their senior guard takes them. Friday night in Lockport, that meant Stagg bagged a victory.
Already a vital component in the Chargers’ operation, Strus’ importance increased when senior guard Kevin White exited with a back injury. White was hurt in the third quarter when he landed hard after absorbing contact while going airborne for a layup attempt, and Stagg coach John Daniels preferred to exercise caution.
“Just as a parent, and [the fact] I’ve been through that as a player,” said Daniels, who suffered a severe back injury while playing ball in college. “I’m not going to risk anyone’s health.”
Without White as a sidekick, Strus stepped forward both as a scorer and distributor. Two of his assists set up key late baskets by Sebastian Kolpak and Jeff Goral, and then Strus applied the finishing touch himself by sinking a 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left to break a tie.
Daniels thought less time than that should have remained, and he also didn’t like that a Lockport player was then awarded three free throws for being fouled “in the act of shooting from 72 feet away.” Daniels disagreed with the continuation call, but he was in full agreement with what happened next -- two misses at the stripe relegated the Porters to a 49-47 SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue setback in front of a “Pack The Place” crowd.
“I definitely feel we played well [overall],” Daniels said. “It was a fun game and exciting.
“Max showed why he’s so special. He was handling the press and he just put us on his back.”
Strus concluded the evening with team-best totals of 24 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. His 3-ball answered one by Lockport that had created a 46-all deadlock and prevented the Porters from generating a greater amount of momentum.
Kolpak’s aforementioned bucket had given the Chargers (17-7, 6-5) a five-point edge, but Stagg also undermined itself with three missed free throws in the final stanza, two of them coming on the front end of 1-and-1s. One of those misfires was followed by a Porters layup that narrowed the gap.
Only 31 seconds were left, however, which meant that Daniels was going to have the Chargers adopt a conservative approach.
“I’m not aggressive with the lead,” he said. “The game plan was to throw the ball in, hold it and make them foul us. If we shoot free throws, I have time to set up my defense.”
A Lockport steal thwarted that plan, though, and brought the hosts within one. Goral’s breakaway layup stretched the lead back out to three before the Porters connected from long range.
“I was really hoping for some breathing room [before that],” Daniels said. “Every time we had a chance to pull away, we’d miss a shot or commit a turnover, and the turnover would turn into points [for Lockport] at the other end.”
Stagg was guilty of 16 miscues despite not facing much in the way of defensive pressure most of the evening, and the visitors also went just 12-of-22 at the foul line. Six of those turnovers occurred in the opening frame and caused the Chargers to be limited to six points.
“We couldn’t get a rhythm going on offense because of the turnovers,” Daniels said. “We made some bad decisions.”
Luckily for Stagg, its defense was in solid working order and Lockport managed a mere five points itself. The Porters, who had beaten the Chargers by 10 in an earlier matchup, trailed at both the second- and third-quarter stops as well.
No other Stagg player joined Strus in double figures, but a total of seven Chargers did reach the scoring column. Next in line was Goral with eight points.
There was no gaining revenge on the Raiders last Tuesday. Instead, Bolingbrook completed a season sweep of the Chargers by building a 10-point halftime advantage and then coasting in triumphantly.
Stagg’s best opportunity to make a run at the Raiders came in the third period, when it closed within three with under two minutes remaining. Back-to-back 3s by the same Bolingbrook player, with a Chargers miss sandwiched in between, restored order for the Raiders.
Those long-distance plays ran counter to the way Bolingbrook inflicted most of the damage upon Stagg. With a front line measuring 6-foot-8, 6-7 and 6-6, the Raiders established dominance around the paint, something that was also made possible by looser officiating.
Daniels had no problem with the referees -- two of whom were from the college ranks -- keeping their whistles relatively silent, but he admitted that wound up being more beneficial to Bolingbrook.
“They’re very long and they have such a physical advantage on you,” Daniels said. “We played all right, but they just pounded us inside. It is what it is.
“They’re a dangerous team and the best team I’ve seen this year. If they get a crew that lets them play, I think they can win their sectional.”
Strus was also the Chargers’ lone double-digit scorer in this contest, as he totaled 23 points to go along with team highs of eight rebounds and four assists. However, neither he nor anyone else on Stagg’s roster posted a decent field-goal percentage, as evidenced by the team mark of 28. The Chargers went 7-of-26 from 3-point range, 14-of-48 overall.
“I’d like to say [Bolingbrook] altered our shots, but we got open looks,” Daniels said. “We rely on 3-point shots and we couldn’t hit [enough of] them.”
Also harming Stagg was a 37-17 discrepancy on the glass. The Raiders included 13 offensive boards among their total and collected 18 points off those.
The Chargers were slated to meet Oak Lawn this past Wednesday in an already-twice-postponed nonconference game. They tangle with District 230 sister school Sandburg in another SWSC Blue affair on Friday.
Bolingbrook 19 14 11 20 - 64
Stagg 12 11 12 8 - 43
Stagg Scoring: Strus 23, Sims 8, Goral 6, White 6. Rebounds: Strus 8. Assists: Strus 4.
Stagg 6 14 15 14 - 49
Lockport 5 12 14 16 - 47
Stagg Scoring: Strus 24, Goral 8, Sims 6, White 6, Contant 2, Kolpak 2, Gardner 1. Rebounds: Strus 10. Assists: Strus 4.