The early slam dunk never came for Alex Lennartz and his Grayslake Central basketball teammates at Grayslake North.
It never came late, either.
In the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-4 Lennartz received the ball in the lane with no defender near him and soared toward the basket. He settled for a layup.
The Rams settled for a win.
Grayslake Central blew a 9-point halftime lead but rallied back to defeat stubborn Grayslake North 53-43 Friday night in the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division opener for the District 127 rivals.
"I was planning on (dunking)," Lennartz said with a smile after his game-high 15 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots help the Rams improve to 4-2. "I was just tired. I played a lot of minutes tonight.
"We were joking about it all week," he added. "(My teammates) were like, 'You just go up there and throw it down.' I thought I was going to have one about the middle of the third quarter when (teammate) Malcolm (Reed) got fouled. We just wanted to get the fans into it and shut (Grayslake North's fans) up. We knew it was going to be loud. We thought maybe if we could get a quick one early in the game, we could take the fans out of it. It was a fun game."
Guard Brandon Tepper had 10 points for Grayslake North (1-7), Aidan Einloth totaled 9 points and 11 rebounds, and center Nate Dodge added 9 points and 6 boards.
"I thought this was one of the best games we've played all year," said Knights senior Jesse Davis, who made his season debut after spraining his right MCL in Week 9 of the football season. "We played with some aggression. Obviously it's a big game because it's a rivalry game. We just got to be able to close at the end."
Trailing 31-22 at halftime, Grayslake North sped the pace in third quarter, scoring the first 7 points, including a 3-pointer by Einloth. Then late in the quarter, Dom DiProva fed Davis for layups on consecutive plays and the home team had its first lead.
"I thought they did a nice job in the third quarter of making us play fast," said coach Brian Moe, whose Rams led by as many as 12 points (23-11) in the first half. "It was our goal coming in to make them play fast. They turned it around on us pretty good in the third quarter, got right back in it and took the lead. It was good that we came back and played with a little more maturity in the fourth quarter."
Grayslake North's Matt Taskovic, who played well coming off the bench, went end to end with a steal and layup to pad the Knights' lead to 38-35 early in the fourth. But 3 free throws by Lennartz tied the score, and then Charlie Anderson (9 points on three 3s, 3 steals) fed Sam Ruhlmann (13 points) for a fastbreak layup. The Rams had the lead for good.
Jacob Vargo's 3-point play stretched the Rams' advantage to 43-38. Vargo also took 3 charges. Grayslake Central closed the game with a 9-0 run after Einloth's coast-to-coast layup got the Knights' within 44-43 with 2:58 to go.
The key for the Rams keeping their poise?
"It's got to be experience," Lennartz said. "We have seven guys that got solid playing-time last year, and that's really been evident in the beginning part of our season."
"I thought we gathered ourselves very well in the second half," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "That was pretty impressive."
The 6-3, 230-pound Davis contributed 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in his first game since his sophomore year. He shattered the fibula and tibia in his right leg during his junior season of football and missed the entire basketball season. He played the Knights' state-playoff football game with his sprained knee and didn't return to the basketball court until this week.
"I felt good," said Davis, who has a titanium rod in his leg. "It was nice to get back out and run around."
Davis wasn't expected to return until maybe January.
"He's awesome," Grunloh said. "There are some things much bigger than Central beating us, and that's definitely one of them."
DiProva scored all 7 of his points in the second half, while Taskovic took 2 charges.
"Where we came from at Thanksgiving (0-4 at Richmond-Burton), which was embarrassing, is a long way," Grunloh said. "I thought for the first time all year, the kids that we had coming back -- Aidan, Dodge, Tepper, Taskovic -- stepped up, whereas in previous nights, a lot of our younger guys have been stepping up to the challenge."