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With his team playing a little sloppy and a bit sleepy Thursday night, Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe asked his players a very simple question during a timeout. And he kicked up the volume for emphasis.
"Do you want win conference or not," Moe yelled.
The question didn't need an answer right then and there, but the Rams sure didn't leave Moe guessing for long.
The Rams turned a 1-point halftime deficit to Johnsburg into a comfy 10-point lead by the end of the third quarter and then climbed ahead by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter en route to a 66-58 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division victory.
The win inches Grayslake Central ever closer to another Fox Division title. The Rams, 16-5 overall, are now a sparkling 8-0 in the division.
"We couldn't have won (the title) tonight, but at this point, when you've got a two-game lead and you still need to win two games to clinch, you kind of feel like every night (the title) is on the line," Moe said. "And when you have a home game, you need to win at home.
"The last couple of games we've come out a little flat. We played well in our (rivalry) game against Grayslake North (last week), but it seems like maybe we got burned out or kind of let down after that. I don't know. If I could solve the 17-year-old mind, I'd be getting paid a lot more than I am right now."
The mystifying Rams managed to hang in there in the first half, despite not playing their game. Johnsburg forced Grayslake Central into a harried pace in its halfcourt offense, and that resulted in multiple ill-advised shots. The Rams converted on just 30 percent of their field goal attempts in the second quarter.
"We just lost our focus really," said Grayslake Central senior guard Jordan Taylor, who poured in a game-high 19 points, including 3 three-pointers. "They were just trying to stir us up with their pressure. It kind of got to us a little bit, but we just came together as a team, started being patient and we did what we've been doing through the whole season."
The Rams' patience resulted in better shots and good balance. Three other players besides Taylor finished in double-figures. Junior guard Danny Reed had 12 points while senior center Casey Boyle and senior guard Savonte McWilliams each finished with 11 points.
"They're a good team," said Johnsburg coach Mike Toussaint, whose team drops to 7-14 overall and 3-5 in the Fox. "They started hitting shots. We left some guys open that you can't leave open. We also didn't attack their big guy (Boyle) like we wanted to. We ended up shooting a lot of fadeaways. Our shot selection wasn't very good"
Some of the Skyhawks' shots were just right.
Junior guard Kevin Dombrowski went on a tear in the fourth quarter and single-handedly made interesting what was beginning to be a blowout. He scored 13 of his team-high 17 points during a fourth-quarter stretch that cut Grayslake Central's 16-point lead to just 6 points. But by then, there were only 17 seconds remaining.
"I just wasn't thinking about it, I just shot the ball," said Dombrowski, who hit 3 3-pointers on the night. "It was good we got back in the game, but we had just panicked too much under the pressure and we didn't do a good job with our matchups defensively."
Besides Dombrowski, the only other Johnsburg player to reach double-figures was TJ Sigmund. He had 10 points.