Defensive identity comes clearer for Grayslake North
Defense hasn't always been the forte of the Grayslake North boys basketball team this season.
"In the first half of the season, we just wanted to try to outscore everyone," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "After six games, we were averaging 71 points per game, but we were giving up like 75 points per game.
"Since January, our defense has really improved. We've been focusing more on it."
On Saturday night at Grant, the Knights were focused on defense with laser-like precision. Grayslake North turned a 2-point halftime deficit into a 19-point lead by the end of the third quarter that eventually yielded a 64-43 Northern Lake County Conference victory over the host Bulldogs.
The Knights made their big third quarter move by clamping down on Grant with no let-up. Grant managed to score only 3 points over the entire quarter. Meanwhile, Grayslake North went off for 24 third-quarter points. And at one point during the quarter, the Knights strung together 10 straight defensive stops.
"It was all about stops," said Grayslake North star guard Ryan Connolly, who poured in a game-high 24 points, including 10 in the decisive third quarter. "It started on defense. We haven't really been a very good defensive team this season. I'm just being honest. But today, it was a lot different. We were fired up more. We had more motivation.
"We had a talk in the locker room at halftime. Coach Grunloh said that we needed to pick up our defense and if we did, we could get a big lead. And that's what happened."
Grayslake North, which improves to 10-13 overall and 6-5 in the NLCC, also got double-figures from Ryan's older brother James Connolly.
James is a senior and Ryan is a sophmore. The brothers played together all last year on varsity as Ryan started for the Knights as a freshman.
"I'm going to miss playing with (James)," Ryan Connolly said. "He's fun to play with. It's going to be different without him."
Meanwhile, Grant, which was also held to less than 10 points in the second quarter (5), wasn't having much fun at all against Grayslake North.
The Bulldogs couldn't hit shots, nor could they take care of the ball.
"We were 6-of-30 from the field in the second half, and we had 30 turnovers," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. "We also didn't box out very well. Put those things together and that equals that outcome.
"Give (Grayslake North) credit. They played hard. But their defense wasn't anything we haven't seen before. I don't know. They just came out and kicked our butts. But we can't (dwell) on this. This is one (where you just burn the game tape)."
Grant's only player to reach double-figures was junior guard Henry Kusiak, who had 10 points.
Leading scorer Michael Huff, one of the best 3-point shooters in Lake County, was held to just 8 points, and no 3-pointers.
Jon Smithson also had 8 points for Grayslake North.