Cary-Grove shuts down Johnsburg in second half
Johnsburg senior guard Macy Madsen hit two 3-pointers and had a steal-and-score to close out the first half in a flourish against Cary-Grove, cutting the Trojans' once 9-point lead to three.
After halftime, it was a completely different game.
The Trojans played shutdown defense, holding Johnsburg to only 7 points over the final 16 minutes on their way to a 59-34 victory Wednesday to advance to the championship of the Johnsburg Girls Basketball Thanksgiving Tournament.
The Trojans (2-0) face Rockford Lutheran (2-0) at 8 p.m. Thursday. Johnsburg (1-1) plays Marian Central (1-1) for third place at 6:30 p.m.
"At half, I told them, 'We're the better team,' " C-G coach Tony Moretti said. "Do what we do and we'll win the game. We did what we do, which is play defense. And that's a staple of Cary-Grove.
"They were throwing flare screens at us and we just got caught a couple of times. We were out of position a lot in the first half. Our press was sloppy. But that's these kids, that's how hard they work. And you see it when the energy comes out. They're a fantastic group of kids."
Cary-Grove was led offensively by senior guard Emily Lukowski, who scored a game-high 19 points, going 7 of 10 from the free-throw line, and also making two 3-pointers. Annika Nordin tossed in 11 points and had 9 rebounds, and Lilliana Kurth and Avery Nielsen each had 8 points.
Nordin carried a basketball out of the locker room scribbled with black Sharpie. After each game, a player on the Trojans is given the "Attitude" ball for their hard work and effort. Moretti said Nordin, a junior, really stood out.
"Annika Nordin, she's a tough one," Moretti said. "Her improvement this year has been through the roof. She's a different player and she's really become a difference-maker for us. She played her butt off tonight."
Nordin played on the varsity team in the spring as a sophomore but is starting for the first time this season.
After halftime, Nordin said the team focused more on communicating on defensive help.
"We talked to each other about where to go and we weren't chasing everyone around," she said. "We jumped the screens so [Madsen] couldn't get open over screens, and we just covered the rolls so she couldn't pass it to the cutter.
"I think we're doing really good so far. In the spring, I don't think the energy was there all the time. You can't just expect to win when the bench is dead and you're not communicating."
The Trojans went 7-3 in the COVID-19-shortened spring and lost to Dundee-Crown, the eventual third-place finisher, in the FVC Tournament quarterfinals -- a loss that still stings for some.
"We had a tough loss at the end last year, and I think this year, we're looking for a conference championship," said Lukowski, who averaged 15 points as a junior. "I'm so excited. I'm super grateful we have a full 30-game season and I get to keep playing with the people I've been playing with since sixth grade one last time."
Madsen led the Skyhawks with 14 points and 9 rebounds. Kaylee Fouke tossed in 9 points and Payton Toussaint added 8 points and two 3s. No one else had more than 3 points.
Johnsburg was outscored 29-7 in the second half. Melanie Hinz served as interim coach with head coach Erin Stochl out on maternity leave.
"A big part of it was to control the game. I felt in the first half, we did job of controlling most of it," Hinz said. "We were running around and doing what we wanted on defense and scoring on offense, but then had a couple of turnovers and then those turnovers just kind of tumble-weeded. We went into half and we talked about all that stuff. But when we came out, it was just, once it happens it just kept going. It wasn't falling. It was like a totally different game."