Dundee-Crown's Brandon Rodriquez worked at his job from midnight to 8 a.m. Friday to help many local shoppers take advantage of Black Friday sales, yet the senior guard still had plenty of gas left in the tank to lead the Chargers to a 54-33 victory over host Sycamore at the 50th Annual Leland G. Strombom Holiday Basketball Tournament Friday night.
Rodriquez finished with 21 points and 5 rebounds and laughed off any idea that he was still tired from his early morning shift.
"It's all part of the game," Rodriquez said smiling when asked about his early morning work schedule. "I felt fine so it was OK."
The win put the Chargers in tonight's 8 p.m. championship game opposite Rockford Luthern, which beat Burlington Central 79-56 Friday.
The Chargers held a 12-10 lead at the end of the first quarter before their defense took over the game and forced Sycamore into 24 turnovers over the final three quarters, and Dundee-Crown head coach Lance Huber wasted no time in identifying the defense as the difference maker in the game.
"I thought our defense really took it to them tonight," Huber said. "I thought we were a little outsized against them. I thought we executed our game pretty well and our smaller guys played bigger than they were. I thought our ball pressure was really good tonight and they worked very hard on that Wednesday during practice. We just tried to work hard on wearing down their ballhandlers."
Rodriquez indicated that pressure defense is something his coach reinforces regardless of the size of the opponent.
"Coach thinks we can really pressure teams this year so we really focus on being good on defense," Rodriquez said. "Size doesn't really matter. We have a lot of speed on the team and we try not to foul and get them on the backside where they can't see us. Coach always tells us to go strong to the bucket and not to back down from their bigger players."
Rodriquez and Dylan Kissack scored 7 and 8 points in the second quarter, respectively, that led the Chargers on a 12-2 run and a 30-18 halftime lead. Despite scoring only 5 points in the third quarter, the Chargers' defense continued to force Sycamore into turnovers and held a 35-25 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
Sycamore's Mark Skelley hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and bring the Spartans to within 7 points, but Rodriquez scored 5 straight points for the Chargers and Deonta Conley added a layup and foul shot to kept the Chargers on top 43-28.
Rockford Lutheran is next up for Huber and the Chargers.
"Rockford Lutheran is pretty good, so we'll have our work cut out for us for sure," Huber said.