Maine West passes CSL test with New Trier
How does this sound: Maine West, Central Suburban League champions.
In the de facto league championship game, pitting the division champs from the North and South divisions in a regular-season finale, host Maine West (19-7) stepped up its defense in the second half.
The Warriors became more selective in their shot-taking decisions, took better care of the ball and battled their hearts out on the boards against the taller Trevians (22-5) for a 56-52 win and the unofficial league championship.
You could see West step up its intensity as soon as the second half got underway.
Trailing 31-23 at the break, the Warriors quickly pulled to within 3 points as high-scorer Milos Dugalic hit 2 free throws and a 3-pointer.
Matt Kentgen then did his thing, hitting a pair of open-look 3-pointers, and Darrington Bates chimed in to disrupt New Trier's usual slick, motion offense. He also beat New Trier's pesky 1-3-1 zone on a drive before feeding backcourt running-mate Julian Dones for a hoop.
"We came out with a lot of aggression and played better on defense," said Dugalic, who tossed home a game-high 23 points.
The third-quarter surge carried over into the fourth quarter as the lead changed hands three times.
New Trier's inside force, Griffin Ryan, scored twice on drives, countered by a Dugalic 3 and a pair of free throws. Finally, 3-pointers from Kentgen and Dones off of what became one of several wild, scrambling sequences in the second half, gave the Warriors the lead for good.
For Maine West, much of the key came down to handling New Trier's signature 1-3-1 press.
"We had a turnover and I said, 'Don't stall the ball,' " against the pressure, said Maine West coach Tom Prokopij.
"We practice that every day," Dugalic said.
It showed the rest of the way.
Offensively, the Warriors handled that pressure and hit 5 of 7 fourth-quarter free throws.
Defensively, they began closing out on sharpshooters like Andrew Kirkpatrick, who paced a balanced Trevians attack with 13 points, including three 3-pointers.
But after going 7-for-12 from beyond the arc in the first three quarters, New Trier was 0-for-4 in the final quarter. Griffin, the Trevians' best inside threat, fouled out after playing aggressively.
Prokopij, who guided the Warriors through a difficult schedule, called the season thus far very gratifying.
"It's just belief," he said. "They bought in."