Maine West can't conquer Sayles, Notre Dame
Defenses on the football field have a hard time bringing Anthony Sayles down.
Defenses on the basketball court have a hard time keeping him down.
Sayles, a junior at Notre Dame, is a star quarterback for the Dons. He also happens to be the No. 1-ranked point guard in the state of Illinois for his class.
On Friday night, Maine West had Sayles right where it wanted him early on in the first semifinal of the Wheeling Hardwood Classic: quiet and under control.
It was the football equivalent of him being flushed out of the pocket with no options downfield, or being knocked flat on his back.
Sayles had just 2 points at halftime -- on free throws, no field goals (0-for 4 field goals) -- and Maine West had a comfy 7-point lead.
But, as if he were breaking tackles and eluding the rush with ease, Sayles stayed squarely on his feet in the third quarter and kept the chains moving, so to speak, for Notre Dame.
He scored 13 third-quarter points to help the Dons take control in what wound up being a 59-49 win for Notre Dame over Maine West.
"Sayles is just on another level," Maine West coach Tom Prokopij said. "He's ready for college basketball right now. He's so strong with the basketball. It's hard to guard him."
Notre Dame, now 13-2 on the season and a favorite to win its fourth Hardwood Classic title in the last 10 years, will face Glenbrook South in the 8:45 p.m. championship game Saturday.
Sayles, who says he can't yet pick a favorite between football and basketball but has two college basketball offers from Loyola-Chicago and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, finished with a game-high 26 points.
"Believe it or not, I was just thinking about getting the other guys going in the second half," Sayles said. "I just played off of them. I was looking for my teammates a lot more and the ball came back to me and I just hit the open shot.
"At halftime, we just said in the locker room that (the first half) wasn't our game that we were playing. We were forcing things, we were very selfish and that's not how we play. We (usually) play unselfish basketball. So we had to get back to playing our type of game."
The Warriors, who fall to 4-7 after starting the Hardwood Classic with big upset wins over defending tournament champion Geneva and favorite Libertyville, were playing exactly the type of game they wanted to in the first half. Their pressure, trapping defense forced 7 Notre Dame turnovers and countless missed shots. And that led to some easy looks for them.
Junior guard Jared Pearson scored 15 of his team-high 21 points in a hot-shooting first half in which he was 5-of-11 from the field with two big 3-pointers.
"We just didn't come out of the half like we came into the game, with energy," Pearson said. "We didn't fight as hard. We had a really good start. Our defense set the tone, which gave us energy on offense. Our defense has been a strong part for us this season. We've been holding really good scorers to way below their averages and now our offense is starting to click."
Pearson, who scored all 13 of the Warriors' second-quarter points, was Maine West's only scorer in double figures. Senior forward Dan Kentgen, Sayles' counterpart as the starting quarterback at Maine West, added 8 points.
For Notre Dame, Jason Bergstrom added 10 points while Louis Lesmond had 8 points and Troy D'Amico had 7 points.
"We settled for a lot of threes in the first half," said Notre Dame coach Kevin Clancy, whose team was 0-for-15 from 3-point range in the first half. "We talked about getting to the rim in the second half and I think Anthony (Sayles) took that to heart. He's a leader for our team and when the other guys were struggling, he found a way to pick us up and he did it in a big way."