When a guy can nail his 3-pointers, run the court and slam dunk on fastbreaks and swat away shots in the lane, he's a difficult force with which to contend.
Milik Yarbrough is that type of player, as he proved again Saturday night.
The 6-foot-6 junior forward did all that and more, leading Zion-Benton to a 53-44 victory at Warren in a North Suburban Lake Division game. It marked the fifth win in a row for the Zee-Bees (9-1, 5-0), who used an up-tempo offense and a stifling defense to thwart the Blue Devils (6-5, 2-3).
"I felt it the whole game tonight," said Yarbrough, who drilled 5 3-pointers, dunked twice on the break and made some pretty passes to open teammates when Warren collapsed on him. "We knew we'd need to play hard to beat a good team tonight. We played tough defense and made shots when we needed to."
Warren started slowly with only 5 free throws to show for its first-quarter effort, but chipped away at the Zee-Bees' lead until cutting it to three (23-20) with 1:35 left in the first half. Looking to trim their deficit to 1, the Blue Devils missed before giving up a pair of 3-pointers in the final 1:05 to trail 29-20 at intermission.
"That final minute of the first half really hurt," said Warren coach Ryan Webber. "When it's looking like you might cut it to 1 point and you end up being down by 9, that hurts. It seems like we got good shots tonight, but they just didn't go in. And Malik is a tough matchup for anybody. He was really dialed in tonight."
Zion-Benton increased its advantage to 37-24 with five minutes to play in the third quarter on yet another Yarbrough 3-pointer, but Warren cut the lead to eight (37-29) with 1:50 remaining on an alley-oop dunk by junior forward Adrian Deere -- courtesy of senior guard Aarias Austin -- and a trey by Austin. But just as he had done in the second quarter, Zion senior guard Gabriel Ramirez (8 points) canned a 3-pointer to close out the scoring for the stanza.
"Sometimes we just break down a little bit and tonight it cost us," said Deere, who tied Austin for team scoring honors with 15 points. "We thought we would be better than this by now, but we still believe in ourselves and we still think we can compete for the conference title."
The Zee-Bees might have something to say about that.
"I was pleased with our defensive effort tonight, especially because we did not have much time to prepare for Warren," said Zion-Benton coach Don Kloth. "We scored in a variety of ways, Malik had another big night and rebounding-wise I thought we hung in there pretty well."
The Blue Devils are now off until tournament action at Jacobs.
"We just have to stick together," Webber said. "We're going through growing pains, but the game pressure is giving us the experience we need. We understand that with a brand new system we can't be a well-oiled machine this quickly."