It may take some time before Grayslake Central's boys basketball team gets the hang of closing out victories.
Holding a 14-point lead with a little more than five minutes to play Friday night wasn't familiar territory for the Rams after a 5-win season. But they survived some tense moments in the final half-minute to finish Buffalo Grove's Bison Classic with a 3-1 record after a 61-57 victory over Elgin.
"It would be nice to take a 14-point lead and make it 20, but you can't hang on to it if you don't have it," said Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe after his team overcame 7-for-18 free-throw shooting and 8 turnovers in the last five minutes. "This was a huge step forward for us this week."
Especially since the Rams rebounded from a tourney-opening loss to state-ranked Stevenson. Senior Charlie Anderson had 13 points and 7 rebounds and sophomore Sam Ruhlmann had 12 points and 5 rebounds to lead a balanced attack where all nine players made a significant contribution.
"I think our team is very skilled from top to bottom," Anderson said. "Our bench stepped up big tonight when we got in foul trouble."
Reserves Jacob Vargo, Matt Loeffl, sophomore Jack Beckman and Michael Benko combined for 18 points and 7 rebounds. Elgin (0-3) closed within 41-36 in the third quarter but Beckman had a pair of rebound baskets to follow a 3-pointer by Malcolm Reed (9 points, 5 rebounds).
"The nice thing is this is a pretty diverse group," Moe said. "We can go small or we can go bigger with Jack and Alex (Lennartz) together. We have a lot of confidence in those kids coming off the bench." The Rams repeatedly drove to the basket to make 16 of their first 29 shots as they finished at 49 percent (26-for-53) from the field. Elgin, which is without top returning scorer Isaiah Butler with a high ankle sprain until Thursday's game at Bartlett, committed 26 turnovers and shot just 40.4 percent (19-for-47).
"We had far too many unforced turnovers and defensive lapses in the first half," said Elgin coach Mike Sitter, whose team plays winless Christian Liberty in its tournament finale at 6 p.m. today. "We came out playing hard in the second half and got ourselves back in it ... but we have to put it together at one time. It's a matter of putting it all together and finding the right five guys on the floor at the same time."
Sophomore Lavion Baldwin scored all 16 of his points in the second half and Desmond Sanders had 13 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. Baldwin's steal and feed to Ryan Sitter (12 points) for a 3 with 19 seconds left, but that turned out to set the final score as the Maroons could not make it even more interesting after the Rams missed 2 free throws at 0:17.
"I think this was a great way to start the season, especially coming back from the (74-29) loss Monday," Anderson said. "We really got it together and Buffalo Grove and Elgin were both big wins and they're both solid teams. We just worked together."