Grayslake Central notches key NLCC win over Lakes
Lakes had momentum on its side on Wednesday night.
The Eagles pulled off a pair of improbable buzzer-beater comebacks that resulted in overtime wins last week, beating Antioch and Wauconda to round out a historic-like run. Lakes overcame dire situations, scorching the nets late in both games, helped by a pair of highlight-reel shots that won't soon be forgotten in program history.
But both those games were at home -- and the Eagles didn't have to contend with Grayslake Central senior forward Brendan Whalen.
Whalen crippled the Eagles with his inside-outside game, scoring 14 of his game-leading 20 points in the first half in a 45-33 boys basketball win in Grayslake.
Junior guard Dennis Estepp poured in 11 points, including two big fourth-quarter 3-pointers to stop any chance for the Eagles to pull off another memorable comeback victory.
"They play hard and keep battling and Lakes made a run down the stretch, but we made some stops," Grayslake Central coach Brian Centella said. "Brendan had a big first half. We needed every single one of his 14 first-half points. I was proud of our team effort defensively. The guys were flying around. I challenged them at halftime to fight for every rebound."
The Rams (10-8, 4-1) won the battle of conference heavyweights by consistently riding the hot right hand of Whalen. The 6-foot-5 Whalen scored the Rams' first 7 points, then closed out the second quarter with 7 consecutive points -- a deep top-of-the-key 3 pointer, a mid-air putback off a teammate's missed 3-pointer, and a 6-foot floater in the lane -- to push the Rams ahead 20-13.
"I usually get off to a pretty hot starts to our games, and start our scoring," Whalen said. "We gave up some early easy baskets, and we had to calm down. My teammates found me. I scored off my teammates' screens, cuts and playmaking. It was all thanks to them, for finding me."
The Eagles opened the game riding the energy from their past two scintillating victories, charging out to leads of 7-2 and 9-4 in the first quarter. But the Eagles, who shot 1-for-8 on 3-pointers in the first half, couldn't solve the Rams' zone defense and lacked the height to score inside on a consistent basis.
And they didn't have Whalen on their roster.
Whalen, a Lake Land College baseball recruit, was the difference in the game due to his size and playmaking. He grabbed 11 rebounds, with 7 coming in the first half. The Eagles couldn't muster any inside scoring, and shot an anemic 2-for-17 on 3-pointers.
Tyson Dewey tossed in 11 points and Ethan McGruder and Brock Marino both added 10 points for the Eagles (7-9, 4-1).
"You have to give credit to Central, for when they switched to that zone, it gave us some issues in that second quarter," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said. "It's something we have to learn from. It's going to be a fun conference race, and come back and learn and get better."
When Whalen slowed down his shooting in the second half, the Rams relied on several players to pick up the slack. Estepp drained back-to-back 3-pointers late in the fourth to pad the lead to 41-31.
"This was a big moment for us," Estepp said. "We heard about them hitting those two game-winning shots. Wauconda, in my opinion, is probably one of the top teams in our conference and they beat Antioch after a big deficit the entire game. Those were very big moments for them. I guess we wanted a big moment for us, and we played really well in the second half."