It's getting to the point that when Conant gives up 30-plus points in a boys varsity basketball game, it's classified as breaking news.
The Cougars held a second straight Mid-Suburban West opponent to 30 or less Friday night in a 42-22 win over visiting Hoffman Estates, a team with a predominantly underclass roster which did everything right except hit shots.
Then again, few teams see many shots fall against Conant (19-4, 6-2).
"As the game went on, our guys just settled in," said Conant coach Tom McCormack, whose club never gave up more than 6 points in any quarter and had only 8 field goals all night. But the Cougars' sticky, match-up 1-2-2 zone traps the ball in corners, denies passing lanes, forces low-percentage looks. Meanwhile, players grab rebounds like they're Fort Knox gold.
Why does it work so well?
"You've got to talk on defense at all times," said 6-foot-10 junior forward Ryan Davis, who was more excited about playing in front members of Conant's '93-'94 Elite Eight team, in attendance and honored before the game, than he was about the 26 points he scored. Davis hit his first five shots, four of them 3s, with that silky-soft touch of his, leaving Hoffman defenders indecisive about whether to give him the outside open look or drift inside and get position near the rim, where the Cougars consistently found him for layups against shorter defenders during much of the second half.
"They inspire us," Davis said of the downstate qualifiers in attendance. "It's awesome being able to compete in front of them."
Conant broke the game open early and kept it that way. While Davis was steady inside and out, the back-breaking play came when Raja Mittal kept an offensive rebound alive as the clock wound down, enabling Jimmy Sotos to find Ben Schols for a buzzer-beater 3 and a 15-5 lead.
Sotos, the senior point guard, keeps everything flowing in the right direction for a team that has Jonathan Kolev and Mittal among the first off the bench.
"It means a lot," Davis said of Sotos' steadying hand. "He kind of gets us into the offense."
Hoffman Estates played hard but couldn't find the mark, shooting just 8 of 32 from the floor and 2 of 20 from beyond the arc, with both 3s from Marquez Woodard, a sophomore guard with a nice touch. Junior center James Allen matched him with 6 points on three baskets and helped Hoffman stay close to taller Conant on the boards.
Defensively, the Hawks (7-14, 2-6) only allowed 15 baskets and actually got Conant to commit more turnovers than they did. But Hoffman Estates couldn't capitalize on the opportunities.
Conant made the most of its chances and keeps progressing. He likened the team's progress over the course of a season to a couple of board games everyone understands.
"You kind of start out the season playing checkers," said McCormack, "and end up playing chess."