St. Francis grabs Sears Centre triumph
There were two reasons retired Glenbard North boys basketball coach Bob Miller and his wife, Diane, made the 100-mile round trip Saturday from their home in Burlington, Wisconsin, to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
"I'm watching my assistant coach play my manager," he said.
St. Francis coach Erin Dwyer was Miller's top assistant during Glenbard North's 2002 downstate run. Elmwood Park coach Tony Sylvester was cut from that team as a senior but served as a manager who even contributed well-received strategy.
After 13 first-half lead changes and 5 ties the mentor prevailed. St. Francis won the Metro Suburban Conference crossover 48-44.
"It's weird," Dwyer said, "because it just means I'm getting older because I'm coaching against a guy I coached in high school. But I think what Tony does at Elmwood Park is awesome. He's built the program up from Day 1 kind of step by step. And the defense they play, it forces you to be patient."
"Coach Dwyer has always been very gracious in reaching out," said sixth-year Elmwood Park coach Sylvester, a manager at Notre Dame when in college.
St. Francis (4-11) had the size advantage with 6-foot-4 Robert Nocek and particularly when 6-7 Bryce Walker and linebacker-strong Marcus Ingold took the court. Elmwood Park (8-8) played a game-long 1-2-2 half-court zone with occasional full-court pressure that forced the Spartans into 9 first-half turnovers.
Led by 10-point scorers Jordan Diaz and Enzo Mazzola, the Tigers forged an 11-11 tie after one quarter and were within 23-22 at halftime and 36-35 after three quarters. However, Elmwood Park made only 6 of 17 free throws and St. Francis' Nocek, Walker and freshman Sebastian Miller paced a 32-19 rebounding advantage.
"We just didn't make enough winning basketball plays," Sylvester said. "A few box-outs, a lot of missed free throws and you lose by 4, you just need that one or two more stops and that would have been the difference."
After Ingold made a free throw, scored on a spin move and Nick Kosmetatos' putback provided that 36-35 lead, St. Francis led thereafter.
Elmwood Park's Kris Amon made two free throws to pull within 42-39 with 2:18 left. St. Francis' Mike Cascella and Miller converted four free throws for a 46-39 Spartans edge with 24.2 seconds left.
"Free throws are really mental," said Cascella, who scored 9 points. "They're right there for you, nobody guarding you. Just take your time and let it fly."
St. Francis was in the favorable yet odd position of having big-court experience, having played in the United Center this season and the last. Miller, recording game highs of 14 points and 9 rebounds, showed his acumen Saturday with a press-beating baseball pass to Nocek for a two-handed dunk and 48-42 lead.
"It wasn't too hard of an adjustment," Miller said.