The problem with draping your defense around Naperville Central 6-foot-6 senior Nick Czarnowski is that seniors Ryan Antony and Matt Bennett are out on the perimeter ready to riddle you and sophomores Emmanuel Rugumba and Matthew Meier are primed off the bench to disrupt you defensively.
That's exactly what Vernon Hills faced last night in the second round of the Wheeling Wildcat Hardwood Classic, and they couldn't control all those variables as Naperville Central advanced to Friday's semifinals at 8:15 against tall and talented Fremd.
The Redhawks' 62-45 victory wasn't easy by any means though, so don't let the final score deceive you. It was still a single-digit lead after three quarters and the lead had changed hands 10 times to that point. Vernon Hills, behind sharpshooter Robby Nardini (21 points), had a 21-15 lead after one and had Naperville scrambling to keep up with the flurry of perimeter bombing the Cougars (9-3) were doing.
"We talked about it at half. Give credit to their shooters," said Antony (16 points), whose team started closing out on Vernon Hills' shooters and extended its defense. They also did some trapping, denied the clean looks the Cougars were getting in the first half and kept feeding the ball to their big center.
"Give it to our big guy," Czarnowski, that is, said Antony, despite all the traps and tricks the Redhawks (7-3) have seen from opposing defenses this season.
When he was bottled up, Antony and Meier found lanes to the basket and Bennett found open looks from 3-point range as the Redhawks broke the game open with an 11-0 run in the third quarter. Then they spread the floor in the fourth quarter and Bennett and Rugumba combined to hit all six of the team's free throws attempts in the final period.
"Meier and Mugumba really did a nice job," especially defensively, Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer said of his two sophomores, who regularly see floor time.
And let's not forget Czarnowski. The team's most-scouted player finished with 21 and missed just three shots all night while blocking 5 and helping the Redhawks to a 28-18 rebounding advantage.
Speaking of advantages, "Naperville Central did a real good job of taking advantage of our mistakes," said Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty, who noted that the taller Redhawks' length on defense made it more difficult for his shooters to find the range in the second half.
Until then, Nardini, Bo Manso and Michael Mariella had knocked down their open and even not-so-open looks, combining for all 8 3-pointers the Cougars would hit. But try as they would, Lem Turner and Co. couldn't contain Czarnowski.
"We made him work for his shots," said McCarty, but he converted anyway.
Vernon Hills plays Niles North in today's fifth-place bracket at 5:30 while Naperville Central goes on to a mirror-image game against tall, talented and unbeaten Fremd in the semifinals.
"We've got to come ready to play," said Antony.