One small change has made a big difference for the Warren boys basketball team this season.
In mid-January, the Blue Devils tossed aside their traditional man-to-man defense and went with a three-quarters quarter trapping zone defense.
Warren's record in North Suburban Conference play in the man: 1-5. Warren's record in the zone: 4-0. That includes a big-time win against Stevenson, one of the best teams in the north suburbs.
The latest team stymied by Warren's new look was Libertyville. On Saturday night, the Blue Devils pressured and trapped Libertyville en route to a breezy 69-49 North Suburban Conference win.
"It all started at the MLK Wheaton Warrenville South tournament where we switched our defense. We force a lot of turnovers and it's working really well," Warren 6-foot-8 senior forward Declan O'Connor said. "When you have to bring the ball up the court with pressure every time, it ends up affecting your shots. You never have time to take a break and that affects you on offense."
Warren, which moves to 11-10 overall and 4-5 in the NSC, forced Libertyville into 15 turnovers and long scoring droughts where shots just weren't falling.
"Warren has completely changed its style of basketball since we played them last time," said Libertyville coach Brent Mork, whose team defeated Warren earlier this season on its own floor. "That zone … it's really tough if you haven't played against it. I think this is the first zone we've seen in maybe two months.
"Just getting across the half-court line can be a task. You have to have an aggressive, attacking mentality. And we didn't really have that. And if you don't hit shots against it, it really dictates how you play on both ends."
Defensively, Libertyville (10-12, 5-4 NSC) struggled to stop O'Connor inside. He pounded his way into the paint for a game-high 25 points. He hit 12 of his 16 field goal attempts.
"Declan is crediting our defense and kudos to him for doing that, but a lot of how we're playing right now has to do to him," Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said. "He's just really been putting the ball in the hole. He has stepped up his game. He was working hard in November and December, but the ball just wasn't always going in the hole for him. He was doing a lot of other things though.
"Now, those shots are going in for Declan. Things have started to click for him and confidence has led to more confidence."
O'Connor scored 15 points in the first half to help Warren take a 32-16 lead into the halftime locker room. Warren went up by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils also got double-figures from Branden Ellis (13 points) Jayson Dorsey (10 points).
Libertyville was led by Drew Peterson, who had 18 points on four 3-pointers. Peterson currently has five college offers on the table: Loyola, Tulane, IUPUI, Kent State and William & Mary. Brandon Rule added 10 points off the bench for the Wildcats.
"The defense they have now was tough. We were getting a lot of open shots but the turnovers were killing us and they got a lot of run-outs because of it and that's where they got a lot of their points," Peterson said of Warren. "We don't usually see zones and we didn't adjust. And our shots just weren't falling today."