It was another ho-hum 3-point shooting night from Lake Zurich senior Michael Bens. He had 6 on the night.
"I don't think I have 100 three-pointers this year,'' Bens admitted.
So on this night of regional basketball at Lake Zurich on Tuesday night, Bens was willing talk about one of his teammates. It was junior Kenny Haynes.
"I told Kenny that he might only play two minutes tonight, so he needed to bring out his best,'' Bens said.
Haynes played more than two minutes. It was the junior's basketball coming-out basketball party. He collected 14 points as the Bears (19-11) advanced to Friday night's regional title game.
After a tight first quarter, the Bears pulled away from Wheeling, 64-45.
"Kenny brings us another scoring element,'' said Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher. "He really brings out the energy."
Haynes was eager to prove himself on this first night of regional action for LZ.
"It was my first playoff game,'' Haynes noted. "I wanted to prove something, and I think I did."
Now, this wasn't a one-sided game at the start. Wheeling (11-17) brought out its 1-3-1 defense and the trapping gave the Bears fits early.
"That defense has been our main identity,'' said Wheeling coach Michael O'Keeffe. "We used it 95 percent of the time. We beat a lot of good teams with it. But give Lake Zurich credit. They have some really good shooters."
Wheeling's last lead of the season came in the second quarter as Deshon Jacobs (6 points) scored inside to give the Wildcats an 18-17 lead.
"We might have come out a little nervous,'' Bens said. "This is the playoffs. Wheeling was the 14th seed and they had nothing to lose."
Bens drilled four 3s in the first half. His final one came in the last half-minute of the opening half and gave the Bears some breathing room at 30-23.
Wheeling's offense slowed down in the third quarter, when the Wildcats were outscored 26-5.
"We started locking down on defense,'' Bens added. "And we started burying those 3-pointers."
The Bears' offense kicked it up in the third quarter. Peter DiCerbo got a double-double (10 points, and 10 rebounds).
And Haynes began to show off his potential, getting to the basket, pickup up putbacks and also firing a gorgeous pass to Ryan Kutsor (8 points) for an easy layup.
Bens had a quiet second half but it the final quarter he landed two consecutive 3-pointers.
With the game firm in hand, both teams were able to clear their benches. The
final two buckets of the game were three-pointers by No. 12 in each uniform.
That was Bryan Niznik for Wheeling and Danny Carlson for the Bears.
Wheeling had 15 points from senior, TJ Best. Fellow 12th-grader, Jalen Dennis added 14 for the Wildcats.
"We had a great group of kids on this team,'' O'Keeffe added. "It was really a fun season."