Grayslake North drops last-second heartbreaker
Welcome back, Exzavier Meyer.
You too, Jack Schirmer.
Marengo was less beleaguered with the return of several sick or injured players in Monday's game against Grayslake North.
Meyer and Schirmer, two seniors who had been out, came through with some critical plays late as the Indians held off North, 64-62, in the first round of the 71st Annual E.C. Nichols Holiday Classic at Homer "Bill" Barry Gymnasium.
Meyer, who had missed five games after being sick with COVID-19, hit a huge 3-pointer with 37 seconds remaining for a 60-58 lead, then buried two free throws with 8.1 remaining.
Schirmer, who had a pair of key offensive rebounds and assists in the fourth quarter, grabbed a rebound and sank a final free throw with 5.9 remaining to give Marengo (3-6) a 64-60 lead.
"When you walk out there with a group of guys that you love and you're playing for each other, it's a different feeling and it feels like I never left," said Meyer, who hit three 3s and scored 13 points. "It was a great experience. We got our center back too, Jack, who hit our last free throw, that was pretty big. It was nice being out there with everybody again."
Marengo advances to meet Freeport at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the second round.
"We haven't been playing insanely well, but we all really like each other," said guard Matthew Volkening, who led the Indians with 18 points. "It brought us back into the game. Jack Schirmer, his first game, he really brings energy. When he was in it really went well.
"It's definitely not been great. Coming into the season, we know how good we are, at the end of games we've had leads and things didn't go our way. But it's good to get a win and this can definitely start a roll for us."
Schirmer suffered a shoulder injury In an ATV accident just before Thanksgiving and recovered to play for the first time.
The lead changed hands six times in the fourth quarter.
Knights coach Josh Feinzimer appreciated the effort his team put forth, with Joseph Valera (24 points) and Dominic Jankowski (23) leading the way. North fell to 2-8.
"Our guys played their butts off, I'm really proud of them," Feinzimer said. "We've been on the wrong side of a few of these. I really wanted one for our players. There were some things that just didn't go our way. We have to make our own luck in games like this and that didn't happen today."
With North leading, 58-57, and just more than a minute to go, Meyer spotted up near the left corner and dropped in his third 3.
"I was like, 'Wide-open shot, I know I can knock this down.' " Meyer said "I have to let that go. I felt good about it."
Volkening blocked a shot on the other end and then was fouled, making 1-of-2 shots. Valera drove for a 5-footer with 17 seconds to go, then Volkening was fouled again.
Volkening struggled to an uncharacteristic 2 of 8 at the line and missed both, but in the scramble for the rebound, the ball was knocked out of bounds off of a Knight.
Meyer was fouled, made his two free throws and Volkening was called for a foul, which worked out to Marengo's advantage with a 63-60 lead. Jacob Donohue missed his free throw and Schirmer rebounded and was fouled with 5.9 remaining.
Schirmer made the second free throw for a 64-60 lead and North, with no timeouts, could do nothing as Marengo's defense let the Knights shoot.
"Overall, we played a good game," Jankowski said. "A couple of lapses on defense, but the effort was there. We hit a lot of big, big shots. The game didn't go our way at the end."
Marengo coach Nate Wright was happy and relieved for a victory.
"Offensively, Zay (Meyer) hit some gutty shots and knocked down those free throws to put us up three," Wright said. "This is the first time we've had 15 guys. We had different rotations and mixes. We had to figure out those things on the floor. Some things we struggled with a little bit started going right a little bit."