For a team that usually likes to live by 3-pointers, the Vernon Hills boys basketball team was often dying by them over the holidays.
The Cougars went just 1-3 at the Wheeling Wildcat Hardwood Classic as their main 3-point shooters (Robby Nardini, Dylan McNamara and Nate Rathod) combined to hit just 21 percent of their attempts from long range (13 of 63).
"We just really struggled to shoot it from beyond the arc," Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty said. "But as bad as we shot the ball at Wheeling, we have to keep shooting and stay positive because the 3-pointer is such a big part of our team and we want our guys to keep shooting with confidence."
The Cougars hit a school-record 15 3-pointers earlier in December in a win over Antioch. They're hoping to get back to a similar number tonight at Round Lake, where they set the previous school-record for 3-pointers last year with 13.
"I was telling Nate (Rathod) that we need a repeat of that," McCarty said. "If we can shoot the way we did at Round Lake last year or like we did at Antioch this year, that's when we play well. That's what we're looking for. As long as it's a good shot, we're going to take it."
More Curry, please:
When scoring became a problem for Vernon Hills over the holidays, head coach Matt McCarty decided to tweak his lineup.
He wanted to find more touches for senior guard Stephen Curry, the Cougars' leading scorer. Curry averages about 17 points.
"But he wasn't getting enough touches while we were at Wheeling and that made it tough for us to score," McCarty said of Curry. "We had a game against Maine West where we scored only 43 points. We scored only 35 points against Prospect.
"Stephen was bringing the ball up a lot for us because he's our best ball handler, but we were starting to see that once he'd give the ball up, he didn't often get it back."
So McCarty inserted senior guard Brett Peterson at the point and moved Curry off the ball and ever since, Curry has been getting more opportunities at the offensive end. And Vernon Hills has seen its overall numbers go up. Since the change, the Cougars have scored at least 50 points multiple times.
"And in a couple of those games, Stephen has scored more than 20 points, even with people really focused on him," McCarty said. "That little twist we've put in since Christmas has really worked for us."
Thanks to a senior-oriented roster last season, Grayslake Central faced a lot of turnover heading into November's season opener.
The Rams are still facing turnover … after turnover, after turnover, after turnover.
Youthful and inexperienced, they've been turnover-prone all season.
"We are a walking turnover," Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe said with a sigh. "We are turning the ball over in epic proportions. I don't know our exact stats on the turnovers because I haven't done our stats since the (holiday) break. I haven't wanted to look."
Moe estimates the ugly truth puts the Rams somewhere between 23 and 25 turnovers per game.
"We had a game against Hampshire and we turned the ball over 14 times and we were so excited because we thought that was a really good game for us," Moe said. "But you aren't going to have a very good season if 14 turnovers is good for you."
Grayslake Central has struggled to a 2-14 mark and went just 1-3 in its holiday tournament at the State Farm Classic in Bloomington.
"We were going against some pretty quick and physical teams down there and that's what our team lacks," Moe said. "The pace and the physicalness of the kids we play against is so different from what our kids are used to, mostly because they're so young.
"We're playing a couple of juniors and our point guard (sophomore Joey Mudd) was playing freshman basketball last year. He's learning on the fly, as are our other guards, Jacob Vargo and Malcolm Reed."
Vargo and Reed are juniors, but neither played much last year, so Grayslake Central's backcourt is not only young, it's also inexperienced. Mistakes love youth and inexperience.
"You can almost see the turnovers coming sometimes because we panic a lot," Moe said. "It's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we say 'Don't turn the ball over,' the more our guys do."
To rid his team of this problem, Moe is trying everything he can think of, including some attention-grabbers at practice.
"Every time we turn the ball over in practice, we have the guys do five pushups," Moe said. "We need to reestablish how important it is to take care of the basketball.
"Let's just say we're doing a lot of pushups at practice."
Whenever a season becomes a struggle, the seniors tug at the heartstrings of the coaches.
During Grayslake Central's 2-14 campaign, head coach Brian Moe can't help but feel particularly bad for his top senior, guard Danny Reed. Reed has had some monster individual games, such as his 28-point outburst against Woodstock. But he'd likely trade that for the same kind of team success he had earlier in his career.
Last year, the Rams were 21-9 and advanced to the sectionals.
"In the last four years, we've had three conference titles and three regional titles so Danny's seen a lot of wins," Moe said. "You just feel bad for the kid and for all of our seniors that we're struggling in their last season.
"Danny's been such a good force and a leader for us. It's been a tough season, but all we can ask from all the seniors is for them to keep fighting for us."
Beginning Saturday, Lake Zurich will host its inaugural Martin Luther King Classic.
The six-team tournament will tip-off at 11 a.m. Saturday and run through 7 p.m., and pick up again on Monday at 10 a.m., with the final game that day starting at 6 p.m. Varsity games are in the field house while sophomore games are in Tonelli Gym.
Each team will play four games. The teams included are: Lake Zurich, Niles North, Marian Central, Streamwood, Wheaton North and Harlem.
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