Short-handed Buffalo Grove rallies, edges Libertyville
Down its top two scorers, down nearly the entire night at Libertyville, Buffalo Grove's boys basketball team never got down mentally.
And then the Bison rose.
After Mike Nowakowski scored on a drive and Libertyville's high-scoring Josh Steinhaus banked a half-court shot wide of the rim, Buffalo Grove's bench sprung from its seats and stormed the court to celebrate a 56-55, nonconference win on Wednesday night.
"Just the way they battled, I'm really pleased," coach Keith Peterson said after his Bison sank nine 3-pointers and boasted four players in double figures, led by Nowakowski's 14 points and Nathan Cole's 13.
Buffalo Grove (15-11) played without freshman star Kam Craft, who strained a muscle just above his hip last Friday night against Prospect. Peterson said Craft, who's averaging more than 20 points per game, will likely not play in the Bison's next two games (Friday at Hersey and next Tuesday at home against Hoffman Estates). Northern Illinois-bound football player Tom Trieb (13 ppg), who recently reinjured his hip, is done for the season.
"Kam and Tom are two very big parts of our team," Nowakowski said. "To see that we can get it done against a very good team like Libertyville without them is a confidence booster."
Travis Clark led Libertyville (12-13) with a career-high 23 points and 9 rebounds. Steinhaus, who scored 32 points in a triple-overtime win at Hersey last Saturday night, picked up 3 fouls in the first half and scored all 6 of his points in the third quarter.
"Buffalo Grove played really hard tonight," Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. "They did a nice job down their two best players, and credit them for being aggressive and confident. They made key shots when they needed to make them."
Libertyville never trailed until senior guard Nowakowski scored his go-ahead bucket in the final seconds following a timeout. Clark nearly blocked the layup.
"Our coaches drew up a play for us in the huddle," Nowakowski said. "We were supposed to fake off the screen and go left. We knew we had Cole, our shooter, in the corner and we knew they were going to guard him tight. So I had a wide-open layup."
Buffalo Grove trailed 41-34 after three quarters and was still down seven after Clark's layup pushed the Libertyville lead to 50-43 with 3:48 left.
"His confidence in the past six games has been unbelievable," Zyrkowski said of the 6-foot-5 senior forward/center, who had an 18-point effort against Lake Zurich last Friday night. "He has stepped it up for this team. Tonight he tweaked his ankle at one point and he didn't want to come out of the game. You got to respect a kid like that."
Clark scored 11 points in the fourth, making 5 of 6 shots, including a 19-footer that stretched the Libertyville lead to 54-51 with 2:08 left. He drained a 3-pointer in the third quarter.
"They were focused on 'Stein' a lot so it gave me opportunities to get open, and my teammates found me," Clark said after shooting 10 of 13 from the floor and 2 of 2 from the line. "I was able to make moves. I had a smaller guy on me in the post, and they gave too much space on the arc."
Buffalo Grove got three 3-pointers apiece from Cole, Ethan Soifer (11 points) and Matthew Brunelli (11 points). Soifer was 3 of 3 from three-point range in the fourth, while Cole and Brunelli also sank a 3 in the quarter.
"With what we have now, we have to get 'hot,' " Peterson said, smiling. "(Libertyville's) 3-2 (zone) really slowed us down. We just weren't confident enough. Guys were in some new roles. Once one shot went in, it opened things up a little bit."
Jackson Watson had 11 points (three 3-pointers), all in the first half, for Libertyville, which played without starting guard Brian Wilterdink (knee). The Wildcats lost in OT to Mundelein on Tuesday night, also failing to protect a fourth-quarter lead.
"The season's a grind. It always is," Clark said. "We have a couple of guys banged up, but we just got to stay mentally tough and get prepared for every practice and every game."
Buffalo Grove probably feels the same way.