Michael Bens' left knee still isn't right, about "85 percent," Lake Zurich's senior guard estimates.
"It probably won't be 100 percent until January or February," said Bens, who's dislocated his knee twice since the summer. The first time he missed six weeks. When he came back, the knee popped out again, necessitating another lengthy stretch of no basketball.
"I just got to keep chipping away a little bit every day," he added.
Thursday night in Gurnee, Bens chipped in. And kept chipping in.
By game's end, he had a career-high 25 points to help lift Lake Zurich to a 51-48, overtime win over Warren in a North Suburban Conference thriller. Junior guard Peter DiCerbo added a career-best 22 points for the Bears, who played all but the first couple of minutes of the game without leading scorer Ryan Kutsor.
Kutsor needed six stitches in his right (shooting) hand after what Bears coach Billy Pitcher called a freak accident during practice Wednesday. Kutsor went up a for a layup and cut open the hand on a metal strip at the edge of the court.
"Fatty tissue sticking out. It was bad," Pitcher said.
Kutsor started against Warren but came out after missing his only shot and watched the rest of the game on the bench. That meant other Bears need to pick up the slack, and both Bens and DiCerbo delivered.
For Bens, that meant disregarding his achy knee.
"The first tournament (of the season at Richmond-Burton) I did not play well," Bens said. "I couldn't run. I was out of shape. My knee was killing me."
Bens' knee was hurting Thursday night, but his toughness and execution helped Lake Zurich (5-2, 1-2) pick up its first win since Thanksgiving. The Bears started NSC play with road losses at Waukegan and Zion-Benton.
"Big game for us," DiCerbo said. "Having our third (conference) road game and coming into (Warren's) house and stealing a win, that was huge. This will really get us rolling."
Warren (3-5, 0-3), which was coming off a triple-OT loss to Lake Forest, was led by Ian Schilling's 14 points, which included four 3-pointers, off the bench.
"We just got to figure out a way to finish games when we're up and handle the ball in crunchtime," said Blue Devils guard Juwan Perry, who scored 8 of his 10 points in the fourth quarter. "Obviously two tough losses. We just got to bounce back, get back to the chalkboard and put the pieces together to come out with wins."
DiCerbo scored 14 points in the second quarter, with his free throw with no time on clock pulling the Bears within 27-23 at the half.
"Even before the game I knew I had to step up big with Kutsor not being able to shoot because (the injury) was his shooting hand," DiCerbo said. "But then once he went out, I knew I had to do something I hadn't done before."
Pitcher wasn't surprised by DiCerbo's performance.
"He's a monster for us," Pitcher said. "He's a tough matchup because he's quick and athletic, but he's also strong and he's good inside."
Bens then took over in the third quarter, scoring 9 points, as Lake Zurich outscored Warren 15-8 to take a 38-35 lead into the fourth.
"I told (DiCerbo) in the locker room it's my turn," Bens joked.
"Bens can really shoot the ball," Pitcher said of his two-year starter. "He made some great decisions."
Declan O'Connor, Warren's 6-foot-8 senior, had 11 points and 9 rebounds. After Brian Chmiel hit both ends of a one-and-one with 31 seconds left in the fourth to put Lake Zurich up 48-46, Perry hit a fadeaway jumper with 22 seconds to go. Bens' off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer was short.
But Bens opened OT by sinking a long 3-pointer -- his fourth of the night -- and that accounted for the only scoring in the extra session.
"Losing (Kutsor) was pretty hard because he accounts for most of our scoring and he gets a lot of rebounds," Bens said. "I knew that they were going to jam me because they knew I'm a shooter. I just took it to the rim most of the time."