Despite leading at halftime Thursday, senior guard Zach Prociuk and his St. Francis boys basketball teammates felt they had more offense in them than their 23 points.
"We were pretty happy with our play, but we couldn't be satisfied," Prociuk said.
With Prociuk and Killian Brown leading the way, the Spartans responded with 23 points in the third quarter alone. The effort paved the way to a 57-41 victory over Willowbrook at the Glenbard West Holiday Classic.
The Spartans (4-4), now 1-1 in the White Pool, still could reach the championship game with a victory Friday over Hoffman Estates (2-0 in the pool). The Hawks won Thursday 51-38 over Northridge Prep, which stifled St. Francis 45-26 in Monday's first round behind an aggressive 2-3 zone defense.
"We took a step forward (Monday). I think we took a step forward. That happens this time of year," St. Francis coach Bob Ward said. "In the first half (tonight), I thought we had really good shot opportunities. We just couldn't finish them. I think we relaxed a little bit more in the second half. Maybe just in reaction to not having scored (against Northridge), we might have been a little tight."
Prociuk and Brown were virtually unstoppable in the third quarter. St. Francis outscored the Warriors (1-9) 23-14 to increase their 23-16 halftime lead to 46-30.
After a scoreless first half, Brown asserted himself inside with 10 points in the period on 4-of-4 shooting and 2 of 3 free throws. Prociuk, who had 9 points at halftime, was 3 of 3 in the quarter with two of his three 3-pointers in the game for 8 points.
The Spartans were 9-of-13 shooting against a 3-2 zone after 7-of-26 shooting in the first half. Nick Fabianski had 3 of the team's 5 assists in the quarter.
"We were making shots and that was very big. We didn't make shots in the last game much or the first half as well," Prociuk said.
"Killian was getting open. We were getting good screens and just attacking the basket. I was just getting open and people were finding me. They were beating guys off the dribble, like Nick, Kevin (Blank), as well as (Stuart Kurtyka). I was just doing my part and making the basket. They did all of the work."
Willowbrook held tough in the first half despite losing starting point guard A.J. Nolen in the opening minutes to an apparent hamstring injury and having three other starters with two or three fouls. Senior starter Edvinas Mickevicius finished with 14 points and two fourth-quarter 3s.
Relying primarily on reserves in the second quarter, the Warriors only trailed 16-13 before a 3 by Jason Sullivan and back-to-back Prociuk baskets created the Spartans' first double-digit lead at 23-13.
"(Our reserves) did a good job. We were only down seven going into half. We just couldn't build any momentum," Willowbrook coach Chris Perkins said. "That third quarter really hurt us. The last couple of games, we've been fairly decent in the first half. Once the adjustment is made during halftime, then coming out with the same intensity has really been our Achilles' heel."
St. Francis also asserted itself on the boards. Led by Adam Hart and Brown, the Spartans outboarded Willowbrook 19-6 in the second half to finish with a 38-17 overall advantage.
"I thought our big guys did a good job of rebounding, much better than (Monday), and Brown had a real, real good second half," Ward said.
Still, Ward said he was perhaps most excited with the team's defensive effort. He praised the man-to-man work by Fabianski and Blank against Willowbrook outside threat Chris Poole, who only had a first-quarter basket after scoring a team-high 14 points with two 3s in Monday's 57-38 loss to Hoffman Estates.
"We're getting better defensively, and that's kind of what we try to base everything on," Ward said. "(Fabianski) did a real nice job. He found people (on offense). With a pretty healthy lead at the end, he had a wide-open layup and just drove (the ball) back out. That tells you everything you want to know about him, a smart player and a real team player."