Carmel hoped last year was just a start toward bigger and better days for its boys basketball program.
That appears to be the case after the Corsairs reached a Class 3A sectional final and ended a streak of 21 consecutive losing seasons. Now they have started this season with four victories after claiming the title of Crystal Lake Central's 7th Annual Coaches vs. Cancer Thanksgiving Tournament with a 66-56 win over McHenry on Saturday afternoon.
"Going 4-0 sure helps the climate a lot," Carmel coach Tim Bowen said after his team won its games by an average of 12 points.
"It really helps our confidence," said 6-foot-10 senior all-tourney pick Jack George, who had 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting with 9 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. "It was a good four games for us and a good start to the season. It's a good thing to build on."
George averaged 22 points and was joined on the all-tourney team by senior guard Billy Kirby, who had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting against McHenry (3-1). Sophomore C.J. Duff added 15 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists and Lee Bowen and Mike Barr added 6 points apiece.
"We definitely built confidence from this tournament and we were able to tell what defines us," Kirby said. "Definitely togetherness, toughness and versatility."
And that led to 53 percent shooting from the field (25-for-47) and a 33-21 rebound advantage that had McHenry trying a man-to-man and zone to stop the Corsairs.
"Obviously it's a rather unique situation with a 6-10 guy and you don't have a lot of practice time," said McHenry coach Tim Paddock. "I thought for the most part we did a decent job of guarding him."
George had 6 points in the first 2:15 and scored 8 in the final 4:45. But in between, the Corsairs showed they are far from a one-man show. Nickai Poyser had 4 points and 6 rebounds and they got some key minutes off the bench from Bowen, Shareif Belser-Bailey, Matt Kelly and Tom McGrail.
"That was probably one of the most positive points of the whole tourney ... and I'm proud of those guys," George said.
"We don't have a guy who will come off the bench to score 20," Tim Bowen said, "but we have guys who can contribute. It's not like there's a drop-off where you're sweating and saying, 'what are we going to do right now.'"
And Carmel didn't panic when McHenry took a 30-27 lead behind all-tourney picks Greg Johnson (15 points on 6-for-22 shooting) and Cody Freund (13 points) and Kyle Postal (11 points).
Kirby's spinning drive started a 12-0 run that bridged halftime and the Corsairs never trailed again.
"Both of them have taken an on-floor leadership role and they're really doing a super job," Bowen said of George and Kirby. "There's something about seniors, and when you have the right bunch of seniors on the floor, it makes a difference."