With only one returning starter and few players with any varsity experience, Elgin boys basketball coach Mike Sitter said his plan was to call a timeout three minutes into Monday's season opener, no matter the score, to make sure his players "had their legs underneath them."
However, the mostly inexperienced Maroons opened the game too hot for their coach to consider stopping their momentum. Elgin nailed 9-of-10 first-quarter shot attempts, including 5-of-6 attempts from 3-point range, and the Maroons ballooned their lead as high as 23 points in the second quarter of an eventual 60-49 victory over host Buffalo Grove at the Bison Classic Thanksgiving Tournament.
"To come into Buffalo Grove and beat a tough MSL team on their court, I'm pretty proud of these guys," Sitter said.
Elgin fourth-year varsity guard Arie Williams scored a career-best 29 points to match Buffalo Grove third-year guard Luke Potnick, but the Maroons also benefitted from reserve guard Isaiah Butler's 16 points. Playing in his first high school basketball game of any kind, the junior connected on his first 5 shot attempts, including his first four 3-point attempts.
"I feel real good about it," Butler said, "but we still need a little work defensively. We'll be all right. We have lots of time to improve."
Elgin streaked to a 26-14 lead after one quarter, thanks to 13 points from Williams and 3 straight 3-point makes by Butler. Elgin opened the second quarter on an 11-0 run, capped by back-to-back baseline baskets by 6-foot-5 senior Eric Sedlack (9 points, 5 rebounds), giving the Maroons their biggest lead of the game, 37-14, with 2:30 left in the first half.
Bison coach Ryan O'Connor called a timeout at that point and told his players it was "gut-check time." Buffalo Grove played better from that point forward. The Bison trailed 37-18 at halftime but pulled within 43-31 by holding Elgin to 6 third-quarter points.
"The first half, we were getting up in their face and they were hitting," Potnick said. "You can't do anything about that. The second half we played really well defensively."
Consecutive Potnick 3-pointers pulled Buffalo Grove within 43-37 early in the fourth quarter and the hosts drew within 47-43 on Potnick's 2 free throws with 4:41 to play. Elgin held off the charge with back-to-back jumpers from Williams, the second coming with 3:02 to play.
Elgin sealed the victory by sinking 7 of 8 free throws in the game's final two minutes, 6 of them by Williams.
"I wish I could put my finger on it, but we were not ready to play," O'Connor said. "We didn't make any adjustments at halftime other than our attitude and effort. That was the difference. The positive is we control our own destiny. The negative is we didn't control it very well tonight."
Elgin (1-0) will take on Stevenson (1-0) today at 6 p.m. Buffalo Grove (0-1) will host Grayslake Central (0-1) on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
"It feels good," Williams said of the victory. "We have confidence in our team. I know a lot of people out there are really doubting us, but what a great way to start. We play a real-deal team (today), so everybody can come out and see what Elgin is all about."