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North Chicago's boys basketball team is minding its Ps.
But while respectful of the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division, the Warhawks couldn't seem to care less if they capture that championship again. After advancing to last season's Class 3A state championship game, anything less than a return trip downstate to Peoria would seemingly be unsatisfactory.
So no wonder North Chicago wasn't getting giddy over its 78-61 win over visiting Lakes on Thursday night. The NSC Prairie contest was competitive for more than three quarters until the Warhawks used a burst to take control and go up by as many as 20 points.
North Chicago improved to 8-1 and 3-0 in the division, while Lakes fell to 7-3 and 3-1 in seeing its five-game winning streak snapped.
"Our goal is not to win the Prairie," Warhawks coach Gerald Coleman said. "Our thing is, when the playoffs start, we're ready to go. We don't celebrate, and (the players) are not allowed to celebrate winning the Prairie."
The Warhawks don't conceal their intentions. During warm-ups, their PA announcer repeatedly mentioned "the road to Peoria," and that's the theme this winter.
"It makes us want it even more," said 6-foot-6 junior Kurt Hall, who scored a game-high 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and was one of three Warhawks who had a double-double. Junior forward JaVairius Amos-Mays had 13 points and 13 rebounds, and senior forward Jarrod Coleman (the coach's nephew) collected 10 points and 15 boards.
"We got to do it for us and the fans."
Lakes did its best to play spoiler. The Eagles never led but were within 16-14 after one quarter, 31-25 at halftime and 53-48 after three. Direll Clark helped keep Lakes in the game in the first half, scoring 12 of his 15 points and grabbing 4 offensive rebounds. Andrew Spencer then made sure North Chicago didn't pull away after halftime. The senior guard scored 11 of his team-high 16 points in third, hitting a 3-pointer and scoring on a pretty scoop.
"I was pretty bad the first half. I didn't contribute much," Spencer said. "I just tried to play harder defense and just play hard overall."
"We were playing their game. We weren't playing our game," Hall said. "We weren't doing what we do best. We came down and we were firing up shots -- out-of-the-ordinary stuff."
"Lakes' game is to try to outsmart us," Hall said. "But it's not going to happen."
North Chicago's game is also being physical, rebounding and attacking the basket. The Warhawks grabbed 21 offensive rebounds.
"It was a theme throughout the game," said Lakes coach Chris Snyder, whose team also got 10 points and 7 rebounds from Justin Bergeron. "We just got out-physicaled. We showed some flashes, but we just consistently weren't physical enough. (North Chicago had) just too many second-chance points. They probably doubled their possessions just off rebounds.
"Not taking anything away," Snyder added. "But I just thought we didn't make it too hard. We had a lot of just standing and watching as they were crashing the boards and driving by."
A thunderous one-handed dunk by Coleman had North Chicago up 55-48 early in the fourth, but Jake Kohler (7 points, 10 rebounds) hit a 3-pointer and then scored in the lane to make it 55-53.
The Warhawks came right back. Hall completed a three-point play after securing an offensive board, Marshall-transfer Timothy Dixon scored on a drive and Hall finished a layup. Emanuel January's bucket in the final half-minute capped a 23-5 flurry that had the hosts up 78-58.
"We can play with them," Spencer said. "They're not that much better than us. It's just that they get their runs, the crowd gets into it, and it's tough to play through that."
Waukegan-transer January had 16 points coming off the bench, and guard JayQuan McCloud tallied 14.
North Chicago was coming off its first loss of the season, 78-62 to Providence St. Mel last Sunday in Chicago.
"We have no energy right now," Gerald Coleman said. "I got to figure out what's going on. It's two games in a row. We played with no urgency."
"They're a very talented team," he added of his players. "When things are tough, they can turn it on in a couple of minutes and relax again. It ain't nothing I'm worried about."