A plethora of perseverance paid off for Peter DiCerbo, who missed all of last season with an ACL tear.
Credit the assistant with an assist Monday night.
During a timeout with 16.2 seconds left in a tie game, Lake Zurich basketball coach Billy Pitcher planned to take DiCerbo out the game to get another shooter on the court. Assistant coach Chris Pickens then talked Pitcher out of it, anticipating a potential offensive-rebound opportunity. And that was a good thing for the Bears.
DiCerbo's putback beat the buzzer, and Lake Zurich escaped with a season-opening, 68-66 win over Grayslake North in the Johnsburg/Richmond-Burton tournament at Richmond-Burton.
"They were telling me on the bench, 'This play is for you to get an offensive rebound,' " DiCerbo said. "I just came in and did what I'm there to do."
Lake Zurich led 65-57 with 2:16 left after Ryan Kutsor (game-high 24 points, 7 rebounds) split two free throws. But Grayslake North freshman Ryan Connolly drained a 3-pointer and Jamal Thomas (22 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists) capped a 7-0 run with a drive to get the Knights within 65-64 with 54 seconds to go.
DiCerbo went to the free throw line with 25 seconds left and missed the front end. He also misfired on 2 foul shots with 1:04 on the clock.
"I had to make up for it," said DiCerbo, who was about to get his chance. "Yesterday I was in the gym shooting free throws with Ryan Kutsor for like 20 minutes."
DiCerbo made his second free throw.
"The second free throw that he made took a lot of guts," Pitcher said. "He missed a couple before, and (Grayslake North's student fans) were yelling at him."
After Thomas dribbled through the defense again to tie the score at 66-66, Lake Zurich called time out. When play resumed, Kutsor missed a tough shot, but DiCerbo grabbed the rebound on the baseline and banked in the winner at the buzzer. He also drew a foul, but the free throw was not rewarded.
Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh thought the game was going to overtime.
"I was arguing because our guy got thrown to the ground," Grunloh said. "I thought (the ref) was calling an offensive foul."
DiCerbo, who was playing in his first varsity game, scored all 8 of his points in the second half. He started but sat most of the first half with 2 fouls. He played with the varsity all summer prior to last season. He tore his ACL late in the summer and had surgery in August.
"I was water boy (last season)," DiCerbo said.
Lake Zurich led 34-31 at halftime but trailed 51-49 after three. With Thomas (4 fouls) on the bench for nearly three minutes in the fourth, the Bears went ahead 60-55.
Brian Chmiel gave Lake Zurich a lift in the fourth with his only 2 baskets of the game. The Bears survived despite missing 6 of 8 free throws in the final 3:42.
"I heard (Giants quarterback) Eli Manning on the radio yesterday say, 'There's no such thing as a bad win,' " Pitcher said, "We certainly didn't do things down the stretch well, allowing them to drive and score and not making our free throws, and just defensively all game I thought we were bad. But we won. You find a way to win. That's the way we were last year."
Michael Bens added 13 points, including three 3-pointers, for Lake Zurich. Chris Trybula had 9 points.
Grayslake North got 14 points apiece from James Connolly and Jon Smithson. Ryan Connolly had 12 in his first high school game.
"Nothing about his game is freshman," Grunloh said of the younger Connolly. "We have big plans for him."