An outstanding defensive effort can keep a team close. It can also spell the difference between victory and defeat.
Both Conant’s and Schaumburg’s boys basketball teams put together the kind of defenses that under different circumstances might have meant victory for both teams.
Unfortunately for the host Saxons, Conant’s defense was just a tad stingier in Friday’s Mid-Suburban West finale, a 35-27 Cougars victory.
Neither team could sustain its offense in the first half, which ended tied at 12. Schaumburg led until Joe Ranallo’s basket with 14 seconds left in the half tied the score.
“We knew Matt would have his guys prepared,” Conant coach Tom McCormack said of Schaumburg’s Matt Walsh. “Schaumburg controlled the ball in the first half.”
A 6-0 run gave Conant its first lead of the game, and the Cougars never trailed after that. Ryan Blaha scored 6 of his 7 points in the third quarter, and Conant doubled its offensive output to lead 24-18 going into the fourth quarter.
“We kept getting the ball into the post, and that opened up the rest of the court,” Ranallo said of the third-quarter surge.
Despite not making a field goal in the final quarter, Conant extended its lead by converting 11 of 13 free throws, including all 6 by Ranallo (game-high 14 points).
Schaumburg (9-16, 2-8) got as close as 25-23 when Josh Rahn (12 points) drained a 3-pointer with 1:24 left, but the Cougars (20-5, 8-2) were 10-of-11 from the foul line down the stretch.
“I thought our guys came ready to play,” Walsh said. “They really competed and played hard. I couldn’t be prouder.
“If we could have knocked down a couple of shots, it might have been different, but Conant is great defensively,” Walsh said.