Sure is nice to be back.
After missing four weeks with a broken finger, junior guard Branden Ellis made his return to the court a memorable one in helping lead host Warren past Mundelein 75-51 in North Suburban Conference boys basketball action on Thursday evening in Gurnee.
"It's great being back out there. I just had a lot of energy and was feeling the shot tonight," said Ellis, who poured in a game-high 21 points as Warren improved to 4-7 overall while in the process notching its first conference win following three hard-fought losses. "We're getting our chemistry down. And we're playing unselfish basketball."
Not only is he correct on both accounts, but a size advantage also helped Warren break open a close game in the third.
The Devils held a 36-31 lead at intermission but outscored Mundelein 13-5 to take a comfortable 49-36 lead into the final stanza.
Ellis popped in 13 of his points in the first half but was actually quiet in the third. That's where the unselfishness factor perhaps shone as Warren has several weapons on offense, such as senior guard Jayson Dorsey.
Dorsey chipped in 7 of his 14 points in the third quarter. And what always make a coach smile is having no turnovers in a period, which Warren accomplished.
"We're doing better at taking care of the ball under pressure," said Warren coach Jon Jasnoch, whose team has a week off before playing at Waukegan next Thursday. "And we took advantage of more inside looks (in the second half)."
Senior forward Declan O'Connor (11 points) and junior center Skylar Kooyenga, who stands 6-feet-9, popped in 6 points, including a dunk at the end of the game that delighted the Warren crowd.
The size advantage also showed in the rebounding category with Warren holding a 32-17 advantage. Senior forward Josh Pelland snared 10 boards to go along with 7 points, while O'Connor grabbed 8.
Mundelein, which fell to 2-12 overall and 0-4 in the league, has been playing some spirited basketball for being a little banged up itself.
Forwards Jeff Bikus (ankle sprain) and Andrew Silva (knee surgery) were both sidelined. But junior forward Albert Castrejon and junior guard Corey Novander have played admirably in their places.
The Mustangs traded punches with Warren to the tune of 10 lead changes and three ties in the first 16 minutes.
Junior guards Tommy Marcotte, James Willman, and Nick Parmley found the shooting touch in the first half to help the Mustangs stay in it.
"We were definitely outsized and weren't able to execute (in the second half)," said Willman, who scored 8 of his 12 points in the first half.
Marcotte netted 9 of his team-high 13, while Parmley scored 6 of his 11 points in the first half as well.