Most teams don't believe holiday tournaments make or break seasons. If you win it, it's nice silverware to add, but if you lose it, you still have almost three months to play.
But for Fred Stokes and the Montini boys basketball team, who want to assert themselves as a potent team come March, the IC Catholic/Westmont Holiday tournament is crucial.
"We basically can't afford to lose this tournament," Stokes said. "Honestly, we need something to put us on the map so everyone else can look at us as a team that really can make a statement."
So a strong start in the opener against Fenton at Westmont was paramount.
"It was really important," Stokes said.
Montini responded with just that. The Broncos scored 12 of the first 15 points, scoring on five of their first six possessions of the game en route to a 74-49 win over the Bison.
"We've been up and down this year and I think if we win this tournament, we'll be good for the rest of the season," Stokes said.
For Montini (8-3), the laser-sharp focus was built before they even walked into Westmont High School.
"We had a good shootaround at the school," Montini coach Daryl Thomas said. "We came out, kind of pushed the ball a little bit."
Shootaround was quite the opposite in Bensenville before Fenton made the trek to Westmont.
"It pretty much all started with our walk-through," Fenton sophomore Diamond King said. "If your walk-through is not great, then you know you're not focused and you're not ready for the game."
Fenton's (1-9) slow start out of the gate wasn't totally detrimental early on. The Bison kept the deficit within single digits, but with 35 seconds left in the first quarter, Matthew Morrissey found Scott West for a 3-pointer that gave Montini a 19-9 lead. Fenton could get no closer.
"We just didn't come ready to play," Fenton coach Chaz Taft said. "That's the experience of an inexperienced team. Most of these guys, it's their first time playing in a varsity Christmas tournament. It's big-time basketball. You have to step up to the challenge."
The Broncos strong start carried over to the second quarter. Montini scored 8 of the first 10 points to open the period. A Benjamin Steiner layup opened up a 27-11 lead less than three minutes into the quarter.
"Everything (was clicking) on all cylinders today," Stokes said.
And every time Fenton began to chip away at the deficit, the Bison were prone to turnovers or a stalled offensive possession.
"A lot a lack of focus," King said. "No communication. We weren't working as a team."
Fenton lost sophomore Andre Reed to injury in the first quarter, and he did not play the rest of the game.
"He heard something pop in the leg and I don't know what it is. We'll take a look at it tomorrow," Taft said. "He gives us a good spark off the bench. That'll hurt if we don't have him."