Vernon Hills blitzes Niles North with defense
Just because he didn't like getting hit in football and, thus stopped playing the sport that his dad played professionally, doesn't mean Vernon Hills senior Tony Brown doesn't enjoy defense.
His dad sure did.
"My dad hit people," Brown, the son of former Bears defensive end Alex Brown, said with a smile. "But I didn't like that."
Brown hits on the baseball field -- the infielder will play Division I for Furman University -- and gets physical on the basketball court, using his muscular, 5-foot-8 frame to annoy guards.
He did that Friday night at Vernon Hills, where the host Cougars nearly stunned Central Suburban League North Division leader Niles North. Down 19 points late in the third quarter, the Cougars got within 3 late, before the Vikings hit clutch free throws to secure a 52-45 victory.
"It was a little fun there," said forward Jack Barszcz, who scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the second half to help Vernon Hills get back in the game.
"We found a way to gain some confidence, and we started stringing some stops together," Cougars coach Matt McCarty said. "I told the guys before the game that we probably had to be in the low-to-mid 50s to win this game. ... I'm really proud of the effort. I told our guys that they should walk out of the locker room with some confidence after playing toe to toe with a really good team."
While Vernon Hills fell to 10-14 and 3-5 in the CSL North, Niles North improved to 21-4 and 8-0. The Vikings were led by 6-3 senior guard Aquan Smart's 20 points. Smart sank 6 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, in the first three quarters, but the only fourth-quarter points he scored came at the foul line (4 of 6).
McCarty put Brown on Smart, despite a height difference of 7 inches.
"Tony," McCarty said, "in my opinion, is one of the best defenders in Lake County. He was guarding an all-state player and he didn't give an inch. He did a phenomenal job on him."
"Just get low, use as much power as I can, and not let him push me around," Brown said of his defensive strategy against Smart. "I just use my skills and quickness to try and stay in front of him."
Burned in the first half by a trio of 3-pointers by Niles North backup guard Liam Graham (11 points), Vernon Hills ditched its zone and went man-to-man.
It coincided with the Cougars' comeback, after a drive by Smart had the visitors up 43-24 with 2:20 left in the third.
"It really started with our energy on the defensive side," Barszcz said. "We made things tough, especially for Aquan. Our defensive energy led the way once we got out of that zone."
Brown' three-point play started a 12-0 run, which he capped with a layup, to get the Cougars within 43-36 with 6:18 to go in the fourth. Barszcz, Erik Rimas and Josh Liu all hit 3-pointers in the fourth. When Barszcz converted a three-point play with 2:07 left, the home team was within 48-45, but the rally ended there.
Brown finished with 11 points. If the Cougars keep playing similar defense, they know they're not finished.
"I think it goes to show our toughness -- just not backing down from anybody," Brown said. "When we play defense, we can hang with anybody in the state. I think that's our strong suit right now, just playing hard and giving ourselves a chance."