Niles North too much for Schaumburg
Niles North had more of everything Friday night at Schaumburg against the hosts in a Class 4A boys basketball regional final.
Except heart, perhaps. But even that wasn't quite enough for a young Schaumburg team that could only watch East Tennessee State-bound Aquan Smart (21 points) finish off the game the same way he started it -- off a steal for a breakaway slam dunk, the exclamation point on the Vikings' 48-35 win, propelling them into the Elk Grove sectional at Robert Morris University on Tuesday night against Loyola.
And as the Vikings (27-5) were celebrating their win, Schaumburg was not feeling sorry for itself in the least.
While Niles North coach Glenn Olson and star player Smart credited their team's work ethic after a disappointing ouster in the early rounds of last year's tournament, counterpart Wade Heisler of Schaumburg (25-7) was reflecting on a Mid-Suburban League championship season in which a regional crown on their home court would've been the cake under the icing for the Saxons.
"Every team we played came out hard against us," said Olson, his team marked by the presence of Smart. But it was Smart's unselfishness, he felt, that keyed the team's success Friday night and all year.
"He learned to trust his teammates," said Olson, and they didn't let him down, especially junior forward Jalen Butler, who had 14 of his 18 points in the second half, all of them backbreakers for Schaumburg. In the fourth quarter, he keyed Niles North's ability to break away, converting in transition to make it 30-23, scoring ahead of the field after a Yosef Oliff steal, hitting a tough-angle scoop drive and later adding four consecutive free throws to ice it.
"He's come on so strong," Olson said of the junior forward.
While he was doing that, Schaumburg was shooting in tough luck, with 3-point attempts by Vaurice Patterson, Jared Schoo and Arnav Karnik all going in and out in prospectively game-changing situations.
But Niles North wouldn't be denied. "This means so much," said Smart, who called the key to the win, "just playing hard. If we play like this, we can go downstate."
Schaumburg will shoot for that next year, with a core of underclassmen coming back, including Wisconsin-bound Chris Hodges (7 points), sophomore point guard Patterson and team high-scorer for the game Armen Torosian, all of his points coming on a trio of 3-pointers.
But it'll be this year's seniors, Arnav Karnik and unsung Schoo, who each scored 6, who will be missed.
"Jared Schoo does all the things that are not fun, but make for things that win," Heisler said of the 6-foot-3 senior who anchored his defense, often guarded the other team's best shooter and rebounded with the best of them.
"I'm going to miss hanging out with everybody," Schoo said. "We'd been counted out a lot, last year (regional champs) into this year," but still emerging with a Mid-Suburban League title.
As to next year, with Hodges anchoring, "The sky's the limit," for him, Schoo said, and perhaps the team, acknowledging he and other alums will be keeping tabs.
But still, when it all came down to it, Niles North had its sights set on this achievement for a full year.
After an early tournament departure last year, "We were in the gym the next day, working hard for this," said Smart.
And it showed.