The South Elgin boys basketball team has been turning heads for the season's first month with a potent offense averaging 73 points per game, but first-year coach Matt Petersen insists most practice time of late has been devoted to a beleaguered defense surrendering 78 points per outing.
Such attention to defense yielded results in the fourth quarter of a 77-66 victory over Barrington at the Hinkle Holiday Classic at Jacobs Monday morning.
South Elgin (5-6) harassed Barrington (3-9) into 20 turnovers, including 6 in the fourth quarter, as the Storm came from 2 points down with five minutes to play to beat the Broncos on Day 2 of pool play.
"We brought a lot of energy on the defensive end," said South Elgin senior guard Darius Wells. "Coach said that was the emphasis and we needed to start playing with energy."
The young Broncos, a team with only four seniors on the roster of 17, took their final lead of the game, 59-58, on a 3-pointer from the top of the arc by 6-foot-8 Rapolas Ivanauskas with 5:01 left. The sophomore forward led Barrington in scoring (16 points) and rebounding (8).
South Elgin responded on its ensuing possession with a 3-pointer from 5-7 sophomore guard Justin Howard, his second of the game, giving the Storm a 61-59 lead with 4:40 remaining. They would not trail again.
"I was just glad I was making shots," Howard said. "I've been in a slump, but I was ready this time and actually made the shots."
Following a Barrington turnover, South Elgin sophomore guard Matt Smith was fouled and sank 2 free throws. Wells followed with a 3-pointer -- his fourth of the game -- to stake his team to a 66-59 lead with 3:52 left. The Broncos drew no closer than 5 points the rest of the way.
South Elgin made shots, connecting on 27 of 51 attempts from the field (53 percent) and 9 of 17 from 3-point range. The Storm sank 6 of their 8 second-half 3-point attempts, led by Wells. In the second half he drilled 4 shots from beyond the arc in 6 tries and led all scorers with 20 points.
"We needed to close out their shooters and make sure they didn't hit their threes," Ivanauskas said. "I think we did really well as a team, but we didn't get to that extra level we need to get to defensively."
Petersen said improved defense led to better offensive rhythm in Wells' case.
"In the zone that we played he was very active," Petersen said. "I think when you bring energy on the defensive end like we did, the offense just flows much more naturally. He was aggressive in letting the game come to him. When Darius does that he can flat-out shoot. When he lets those shots happen, they're going to fall in most of the time."
Storm senior guard Matt McClure scored 18 points on 5-of-9 shooing from the floor and 7-of-9 shooting from the free-throw line, 6-8 sophomore Tyler Hankins scored 12 points and had 5 rebounds and sophomore guard Matt Smith added 10 points for South Elgin, which concludes pool play against Prairie Ridge (6-4) on Thursday at 9 a.m.
Junior forward Chris Lester scored 11 points, while senior forward Zach Bart and junior forward Calvin Goldsmith each scored 9 points for Barrington, which completes pool play against Larkin (11-1) on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.