It took long enough for Maine West to get the message. Now, they're delivering it.
The Warriors showed Friday night just how far they've come under the tutelage of first-year head coach John Bongiorno in a 72-61 Central Suburban North thumping of visiting Niles North.
Bongiorno only became head coach in August, and at first, the Warriors were slow to learn his system. Now, they're teaching it, as Niles North would attest.
The Warriors shot 30-of-53 from the floor, 7-of-12 on 3-pointers and were so adept from mid-range and the perimeter in general that they didn't even attempt a free throw until the fourth quarter from lack of going to the hoop often enough. But after high-scorer Jamal Sherman (22 points) tossed in a prayer 3 at the halftime buzzer, the lead ballooned to 38-21 from 12-10 after one quarter on the torrid shooting of the Warriors.
They kept it up in the second half. Sherman, in fact, at one point hit seven straight shots from the second quarter into the fourth. Joel Ferraren, who wasn't even expected to play with a knee injury, came off the bench as a precaution, playing set minutes, and scored 16 points, shooting a phenomenal 8-of-12 from the floor while keeping the Warriors tuned in on defense.
After the first quarter, the Vikings never got closer than the final score, despite Duante Stephens' ridiculous shooting performance en route to a game-high 36 points. And while he shot 15-of-27, the rest of the team only hit 11-of-27, let alone 3-of-15 on free throws and 6-of-17 from beyond the arc (Stephens was 5-of-8).
Bongiorno is grateful his players are getting the hang of his system.
"The kids have to buy in to what you're doing," he said, noting that they have. That included throwing different looks on defense at a well-armed Niles North team.
"We switched a lot. We got a couple of turnovers," consecutively, that is, Bongiorno noted, during a key second-half stretch where Stephens shot the Vikings back within 12.
But Sherman, Matt Acevedo (10 points), Adam Wessell and Ferraren sandwiched Stephens' strong play with baskets of their own on consecutive trips.
The strong play of late has boosted the Warriors to 7-8 overall and 3-2 in the division.
"I think we're a team to be reckoned with," said Sherman. "I think we could be really good."
Maybe they're on their way -- with room for a touch-up here and there.
"We didn't rebound well. We gave them some extra baskets," Bongiorno noted.
That's likely to happen with a Warriors squad generally shorter than most of its opponents. And that's why it's nice to have a Ferraren healthy enough to play,
"I went to the doctor. I felt pretty good," said the 6-foot forward, who was icing an all-new minor leg injury after the game.
"He's our best all-around," said Bongiorno of his sharpshooter who generally draws the other team's best scorer -- although no one was going to stop Stephens this night.
"We knew they had bigger guys," Ferraren said of giving away height and rebounds. "The winner is going to be the team that plays the best defense."