For Lake Zurich's boys basketball team Thursday afternoon at the Jacobs Holiday Classic, things looked dark early.
The Bears missed their first 9 shots against Zion-Benton.
Outside the gym?
It got dark.
It was, after all, the winter solstice.
But things brightened up considerably for LZ inside, as the Bears beat the Zee-Bees 62-54 to advance to today's fifth-place game (4:30 p.m.) against Barrington in the Consolation A bracket.
"That was a fun one, huh?" said LZ coach Billy Pitcher, whose club improved to 7-6.
The Bears' win total, in the entire 2010-11 season: 7.
Thursday's win in Algonquin was LZ's second against Z-B (6-7) in eight days; LZ topped visiting Z-B 54-47 in a North Suburban Conference Lake division game Dec. 15.
"We started cold (Thursday afternoon), but we were taking good shots," Pitcher said. "The guys stayed with it, trusted each other."
In one early possession, LZ came down with 4 offensive rebounds but netted zero points.
Shortly thereafter, "The Mirko Grcic vs. Milik Yarbrough Show" commenced. Grcic, LZ's 6-foot-6 senior forward, scored 8 of his team's 10 points in the first quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers in successive possessions; Yarbrough, Z-B's 6-6 sophomore forward, also struck for 80 percent of his squad's 10 points in the frame.
Something else was all tied up at the half. The game: 24-24.
Grcic finished with 29 points -- 19 after halftime; Yarbrough dropped 31 points on the Bears -- 1 in the fourth quarter.
The one Bear guarding Yarbrough, in the fourth quarter, was 6-3 senior forward Jeff O'Brien, who'd sustained a deep cut above his lip in the first half. A Yarbrough elbow, violently and inadvertently, introduced itself to O'Brien's face.
The Bear needed a bandage.
"Jeff," Pitcher said, "had a Band-Aid mustache going."
O'Brien (10 points) also had the assist of the day, lofting an alley-oop to a fast-breaking Grcic midway through the fourth quarter. Grcic, before his liftoff, had requested the pass by raising his right index finger after making eye contact with O'Brien.
An airborne Grcic got his right hand on the perfect pass and attempted to slam it. The ball hit iron, returned to Grcic's right hand and then, somehow, fell gently in.
"Don't give him credit for a dunk," a smiling O'Brien, Band-Aid free, said afterward.
But Grcic deserved something for the bucket, which capped a 12-2 run and upped LZ's lead to 55-44.
How about credit for a half-dunk/half-layup?
"Two points," said Grcic, also smiling. "It was worth 2 points."
Zion-Benton responded to Grcic's unique field goal with an 8-0 stretch, paring LZ's advantage to 55-52 with 1:55 left.
The Zee-Bees trailed 58-54, at 0:39, when they trapped Grcic in a corner. LZ called for a timeout, about a nanosecond before a five-second violation would have been called.
Senior guard Brenden Seeger (7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals) scored LZ's final basket on a fast break that wasn't so fast. Seeger, in a lane shortly after receiving an O'Brien pass, stopped completely, turned his back to the basket and looked toward his team's bench.
It appeared he was seeking permission to shoot.
Coach Pitcher granted it.
"I told him, 'Take it, take it,' " Pitcher said.
Seeger, after turning again, took it.
Seeger made it.
Bears senior reserve Justin Peterson, a 6-3 forward, made quite an impact for the second game in a row. He scored 7 points (1 trey), grabbed 4 rebounds and showed toughness and perseverance against taller boys.
"Our assistant (Tom Reagan)," Pitcher said, "asked Justin, not too long ago, 'When was the last time we took you out of a game because you were too aggressive?' Justin has been playing aggressive, and excellent, basketball ever since then.
"Today," Pitcher added, "he gave us a huge lift."
LZ senior forward Doug Murphy finished with 8 points and 6 boards. One of his rebounds -- a tap-away to a wide-open Grcic -- kept a key possession alive early in the fourth quarter. Grcic then shoved a pass to Peterson, who knocked down a jumper.
Grcic, who tallied 24 points against Z-B last week, also had 8 rebounds and 2 steals Thursday afternoon.
Zion senior Curtis Cook, a 6-8 center, scored 16 points.