Adversity just made Palatine tougher in Saturday afternoon's nonconference boys basketball game at Vernon Hills.
Sophomore standout Roosevelt Smart couldn't find his shooting touch as he was constantly hounded by multiple defenders. Sophomore point guard Chris Macahon spent more than nine minutes of the first half on the bench in foul trouble.
Six-foot-5 senior starter Josh Baldus was away on a football recruiting trip. And Vernon Hills senior Stephen Curry was heating up from 3-point range in the third quarter.
But the Pirates fought through all of it to win their third consecutive game 48-39 and improve to 5-3 after winning just 3 games last season.
"We just played defense," Smart said after making 11 of 12 free throws and finishing with team highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds. "We have to stop other teams from scoring and we have to be tougher than everybody on the opposing team."
A 12-3 burst put the Pirates up 38-31 with 3:05 left and they scored 8 of the last 11 points. They also overcame shooting 27.1 percent from the field (13-for-48) and 1-for-12 on 3s with a 37-31 rebound advantage, 21-for-26 free-throw shooting and only 8 turnovers.
"We don't match up with a lot of teams but our mentality is we aren't scared of anybody," Macahon said after he had 8 points and 6 rebounds. "We know we can compete with anybody in our conference and on our schedule."
Palatine was coming off a rare win at Mid-Suburban West rival Conant on Thursday and trailed 28-26 when Curry (20 points, 6 rebounds) hit his third 3 of the third quarter and fourth of the game. But after a Vernon Hills (4-4) miss, Macahon tipped the rebound out toward midcourt, raced to grab it and made a quick change of direction past a defender with a hard behind-the-back dribble en route to a tying drive.
His tough, driving 3-point play in traffic put the Pirates up to stay. After junior Jason Jablonski drew a charge, senior Andy Macahon's baseline drive made it 33-28 at 5:25.
"Every kid we've called on this year has contributed," said Palatine coach Eric Millstone.
Saturday was no exception as Macahon's 7 points also included a layup in transition for a 40-34 lead at 2:30. Jablonski had 6 second-quarter points, Jordan Jarrett slowed Curry to 4 fourth-quarter points and Greg Grana (7 points, 7 rebounds) drew a charge on Curry to preserve a 4-point lead with 1:34 left.
"It's a new team with different players and different weapons," Chris Macahon said.
"We find ways to score if it isn't happening offensively," Smart said after scoring 8 points in the last 3:21. "We try to go to the basket as much as we can to hit free throws, which we did tonight."
Curry and Nate Rathod combined to limit Smart to 3-for-13 from the field. Curry shot 7-for-16 and 4-for-7 from the arc before fouling out with 38.5 seconds left but the rest of the Cougars shot 6-for-30 from the field and 2-for-20 on 3s.
"I told the kids I thought our defensive effort was really good, but we needed to give Stephen Curry a little help," said Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty. "Some of our guys who have knocked down shots in earlier games didn't get them to go tonight and Palatine had something to do with that."
Which has a lot to do with the early turnaround for a Pirates' program which has struggled in recent years.
"They have a winning mentality," Millstone said. "They may not be the prettiest of games, but they do a good job of calling on their toughness and discipline to get us through it."