Putting together a 20-1 run against a team as solid as Zion-Benton is not an easy task, but that's what Lakes was able to do Saturday night in Lake Villa. Beginning midway through the second quarter and continuing for the first 2½ minutes of the third, the run enabled the Eagles to go up 35-27 in the North Suburban Conference crossover game.
Trying to maintain that lead and prevail over the Zee-Bees proved to be a more difficult assignment for Lakes. Zion rallied from a 9-point deficit and hung on down the stretch to earn a 56-53 victory.
Junior Milik Yarbrough scored 18 of Zion's 22 fourth-quarter points and wound up with a game-high 30, while senior guard Gabriel Ramirez knocked down a quartet of 3-pointers for his 12 points in the Zee-Bees' fifth consecutive triumph.
Putting Yarbrough at the free throw line did not help the Eagles (13-6), but sometimes there's no other way to defend the talented, 6-foot-6 forward.
"I knew at the beginning of the season that I'd be shooting a lot of free throws, so I made that a priority in my game," said Yarbrough, who was 11-for-13 from the charity stripe. "In basketball, everybody makes runs. When Lakes made theirs tonight, we didn't panic. We just played hard, hit the boards and thankfully the outcome went our way."
Lakes coach Chris Snyder said there's only so much you can do against Yarbrough.
"You've just got to make things as difficult as possible for him because he's a big, strong guy," Snyder said. "We were throwing a lot of guys at him, but then (Ramirez) was hitting 3's, so you can try to take one thing away but not always both."
Seniors Direll Clark and Justin Bergeron scored 15 points apiece to pace Lakes, with Bergeron doing most of his damage at the free throw line (9-for-14). Unfortunately for the Eagles, they missed 3 out of their last 4 free throws, and Clark's 3-point attempt to tie the game at the buzzer was off.
"You just have to learn from it, turn the page and get stronger because of it," Snyder said. "We have to learn how to handle the pressure a little better. But it was good to see our guys fight back.
"Justin is an aggressive player and he was a physical force out there for us. Direll had a nice start to the second half and TJ Edwards (9 points) had a nice game off the bench and hit that big 3 at the end of the first half."
Zion (14-3) started strong and led by 11 points at 26-15 with 4:05 remaining in the second quarter after Ramirez nailed his third 3-pointer in less than 5 minutes.
"I was feeling it," Ramirez said. "I got in a rhythm. When they started getting more in my face, it affected me like it would any player, but my job as a shooter is to shoot as if there's nobody there."
Lakes finished the second quarter with a 12-1 run and scored the first 8 points of the second half. The Eagles led 39-30 after a pair of Bergeron free throws with 1:50 left in the third quarter, but Zion guard Dorsey Cadette scored the last four points of the period to set up Yarbrough's fourth-quarter heroics.
"We talked all week about how Lakes is a very good team that plays smart, so we knew it would be a tough game, and it was," said Zion coach Don Kloth.