Simberg, Peterson keep Libertyville on target at LFA
No Libertyville basketball player has shot more free throws in Lake Forest Academy's gym than Brandon Simberg. So no wonder the senior guard remained relaxed at the foul line down the stretch in a tight game.
Drew Peterson carried Libertyville's offense again, and Simberg's clutch free throws against his old school helped the Wildcats hang on for a 55-48 nonconference win in Lake Forest on Thursday night.
Simberg attended LFA as a freshman and sophomore, before transferring to Libertyville last year.
"I'm one of his good friends and I always joke about how we're coming back to his first high school," Peterson said after collecting 29 points, 15 rebounds and 3 steals. "Even the (LFA) crowd was chanting 'Simberg,' trying to get in his head."
Simberg's free throws helped Libertyville (2-3) respond positively from dropping three of four games in St. Viator's tournament. The Wildcats beat first-year coach Brian Zyrkowski's alma mater, Conant, in overtime and played tough in losses to St. Viator (8-point margin), Prospect (5 points) and Evanston (10 points). Libertyville outlasted an LFA team that went 4-1 in winning Mundelein's Thanksgiving tournament.
"Playing in that (St. Viator) tournament was the best thing that happened to us," Zyrkowski said. "Four quality games."
Libertyville held a slim lead against LFA for most of the game. A pair of free throws by Josh Steinhaus had the visitors up 47-37 with 3:43 left in the fourth quarter. But turnovers by the Wildcats and aggressive drives to the baskets by the Caxys got the hosts within 47-45 with a minute left. Libertyville was up 51-48 when Simberg went to the line with 23.9 seconds on the clock.
He swished both free throws for his only points of the game.
"I felt really good to be back, but there were some nerves," said Simberg, who missed 3 shots from beyond the arc in the second quarter. "I've played in here so many times that in the second half I settled down. I think that helped me at the end because I've shot so many free throws at that rim."
Chase Eyre added 7 points and 5 rebounds for Libertyville, which had no player besides Peterson score in double figures. Through five games, Peterson (27 ppg) has scored 135 of the Wildcats' 297 points (45 percent).
That's not a concern for Zyrkowski.
"He's very difficult to guard because he can play both inside and outside," Zyrkowski said of the 6-foot-8, 183-pound senior guard who has 14 scholarship offers but remains uncommitted. "I said at the beginning (of the season) he's going to drive this team. We've competed in every single game because of him."
Libertyville held LFA to 27-percent shooting (13 of 49). The Caxys also missed 7 free throws (17 attempts) in the fourth quarter. Peterson (7 of 8), Simberg (2 of 2), Steinhaus (2 of 2) and Grant Bair (2 of 2) helped the Wildcats shoot 13 of 16 from the stripe in the fourth.
"We were in the bonus for most of the fourth quarter, so I realized I just had to get to the hoop," Peterson said. "It's big if we can hit free throws to win games like that."
Libertyville, which trailed 9-3 late in the opening quarter, overcame 24 turnovers.
"We learned a lot about ourselves in that St. Viator tournament," Zyrkowski said. "We had to work on a lot of things. We had to work on our defense, we had to work offensively on certain actions that we wanted to get, and this team has worked. Tonight it showed."
LFA received 11 points apiece from Matey Juric, Andrew Crawford (two 3-pointers) and Vasilije Vukmanovic (9 rebounds).
"Defensively, we took a big step up against a very tough team, a physical team," Zyrkowski said. "(They're) very difficult to guard off the dribble."
Besides Simberg and Bair, Libertyville got contributions off the bench from Brian Wilterdink (5 steals) and Travis Clark (6 points, 5 rebounds).
"I think playing in so many tight games at the Viator tournament against so many good teams helped us here," Simberg said. "Even though we almost let it slip away, we didn't because we've been there before."