What a difference a day makes.
Geneva was shell-shocked Tuesday night after King overcame a 13-point deficit in the final three minutes to upset the defending Wildcat Turkey Classic champion Vikings 68-66. But, after suffering a spate of uncharacteristic turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch of that loss, the Vikes played with poise and resolve in the fourth quarter against Lake Zurich on Wednesday. Geneva sank 7 of 9 free throws, committed just one turnover and secured a 52-47 victory in the third round of the tournament in West Chicago.
"Last night's game took the wind out of our sails," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "But good teams respond to adversity, and our guys did that today. We were scared to death of this game. Lake Zurich is a much-improved team. They pushed us to our limit today. Billy Pitcher has them playing well. They played a very good game."
The win also earned the Vikings a share of first place with Lake Zurich, King and West Chicago in the six-team round-robin tournament. The teams are 2-1 entering crucial fourth-round matchups on Friday. Geneva faces Addison Trail at 3:30 p.m. while Lake Zurich squares off with Marmion at 5 p.m. Geneva concludes the tournament against West Chicago at 8 p.m. Saturday, while Lake Zurich finishes with Addison Trail
"Our goal was to get at least four wins at this tournament, so we're still on target to get to that number," Bears coach Billy Pitcher said. "It was a tough loss, but we lost by 30 (71-41) to Geneva in last year's tournament, and we were playing without four players who are still in the playoffs with our school's football team, so we made a big improvement."
Geneva and Lake Zurich exchanged leads 10 times in a tightly contested affair, but the Bears appeared to grab control in the first two minutes of the third quarter. Lake Zurich rang up eight unanswered points for a 32-23 cushion on three-pointers from junior guards Mike Travlos (team-high 19 points) and Jack O'Neill and a layup off a back cut by junior forward Will McClaughry. But the Vikings then buckled down on defense, limiting Lake Zurich to one basket over the next 6:05, and forced the up-tempo Bears into a grind-it-out half-court pace using their disciplined motion offense. Geneva capped a 12-2 run with a three-point play in the post from junior forward Nate Navigato (team-high 19 points) for a 35-34 lead it never relinquished.
"After we fell behind 32-23, our guys just battled," Ralston said. "In the second half we ran our sets perfectly. When we execute that well offensively, we have a chance to win a lot of games this season."
The Vikings ripped off another spurt to open the final quarter, outscoring the Bears 8-0 to build a 45-36 lead with 4:15 remaining on a three-pointer from Mike Landi. The 6-foot-7 junior forward-center delivered 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting off the bench to complement Navigato.
"Landi was great," Navigato said. "Our bench is huge for us. We're a very deep team. We have a lot of guys who can step up on any given night."
"Mike played big tonight. We really have seven or eight starters on our team," Ralston added.
Lake Zurich mounted one last rally, drawing within three points on three different occasions, the last on a trey from O'Neill with 5.6 seconds left. But Navigato buried four straight free throws to stave off the comeback and preserve the victory.
"The thing he does really well is not force the issue," Pitcher said of Geneva's 16-points-per-game scorer from a year ago, who was coming off a career-best 27-point outing on Tuesday. "He has a good group of players around him, so he doesn't force up bad shots. He has a well-rounded game, too. He can shoot from deep, score inside, put it on the floor and he hits his free throws."