Libertyville needed Drew Peterson to be good at basketball again, and this time that included being a good teammate down the stretch.
The Wildcats did more than just win a game Tuesday night. They held off host Warren 59-54 in the two teams' North Suburban Conference opener with their 6-foot-8 senior guard sitting out the last half of the fourth quarter.
"It was big," Libertyville junior guard Josh Steinhaus said. "We just tried to stay composed. We have a lot of players that can play off the bench, even though Drew is a big part of our team."
Libertyville (3-3) took a 51-45 lead when Peterson finished a layup in transition with 4:35 left in the game, but he said something to the referee when a foul wasn't called on the play. Wildcats coach Brian Zyrkowski took Peterson out of the game.
Peterson never got back in, finishing with game bests of 23 points (three 3-pointers) and 10 rebounds.
"We have to learn not to talk to the refs, and Drew's been doing a great job with that," Zyrkowski said. "Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, when your adrenaline is getting up playing the game, sometimes things get said."
Warren (4-3) chipped away at its deficit but got within only three, twice, the last time when Branden Ellis (team-high 18 points) finished a layup with 2:07 left to make it 53-50.
"We had some offensive slumps tonight," Blue Devils coach Jon Jasnoch said. "We came away with empty possessions."
Libertyville maintained its lead by going 6 of 6 from the foul line in the final minute. Steinhaus (10 points) twice made both ends of 1-and-1's, with 52 seconds left and then with 31 seconds to go. Travis Clark's 2 free throws with 15 seconds on the clock made it an 8-point margin, before Ellis drained a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Zyrkowski coached Steinhaus, a junior guard, on under levels the last two seasons.
"He's one of those guys that you trust with the basketball down the stretch, regardless of the pressure," Zyrkowski said.
While it depends on the situation, Zyrkowski said he will usually take his player out of the game if he receives a technical foul. Just because it happened to one of the best players in the state, the first-year head coach stuck to his rule.
"We preach to our guys not to talk to the officials," Zyrkowski said. "Let them do their job. They got to listen to me enough."
Peterson remained on the bench, even as Zyrkowski burned 3 timeouts down the stretch.
"A lot of these guys that were playing were on the varsity last year but may not have seen the minutes in these type of situations, so we had to use timeouts down the stretch," Zyrkowski said. "We finished the game and I got to give the guys -- and Drew -- credit. For a guy coming out of the game and still being a teammate for his guys and after the game giving the guys high-fives in the locker room, that's what it's about."
Peterson had no problem with his coach's decision.
"It was definitely a mistake on my part," said Peterson, who shot 10 of 14 from the floor. "I shouldn't be talking to the refs. Our team battled through it. The coaches proved a point to me and I understand what I did wrong. Luckily, we knocked down free throws and we got the win."
Besides Steinhaus and Clark, Zyrkowski used Chase Eyre (9 points), Brian Wilterdink, Brandon Simberg and Grant Bair with Peterson sitting.
"We trust our teammates that we can hold onto the ball and end the game well," Peterson said. "Obviously I wanted to be in there, but we had the right guys in there, and they were able to knock down shots and play defense."
Warren scored 5 points in the final minute of the first half to cut a 10-point deficit in half, but Steinhaus' pullup 3-pointer to beat the buzzer had Libertyville up 33-25. Warren responded with a 10-0 run to start the second half. Ellis, who sat the entire second quarter with 2 fouls, scored 8 points in the third, but the home team still trailed 47-43 entering the fourth.
Barak Diehl and David Catanus each had 11 points for Warren, but Libertyville showed it can win even with Peterson not in the game.
"They got a lot of (other) good players," Jasnoch said. "They got other guys that can score. And when you're down, you're playing a little differently. You're scrambling. You're trying to force things. ... You have a chance, if the other team misses their free throws."