Lake Zurich knocks off host team in Pekin tournament
PEKIN -- A fabled Christmas tournament in a historic gym. The opening game against the hosts, in front of a packed house for the marquee evening matchup of the first day.
This was exactly what Nick Pezzella and Brady Sykes missed last season for the Lake Zurich boys basketball team.
The Bears' senior captains made up for that lost time Monday night, making big play after big play in a 52-40 victory over the host Dragons in the 56th annual Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament.
Sykes led all scorers with a stat line of 25 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist. Pezzella, the point guard, chipped in 17 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and a block.
"We love this atmosphere," Pezzella said. "This is always like the most fun part of the season for Lake Zurich. So, not getting to do this last year because of COVID really stunk. Hopefully, we get to keep playing big games like this."
At worse, Lake Zurich (5-6) at least avoids dropping down into "The Dungeon" -- the Custer-Stout basement gym where first day losers are banished.
Instead, the Bears remain in historic Dawdy Hawkins Gym to play state-ranked Rockford Boylan, the tourney's third seed, at 12:45 p.m. in the first of two games today for coach Terry Coughlin's team.
"Playing a good team in front of a packed house is why you play in this tournament," Coughlin said. "That's what makes this event so special.
"Just like Boylan, Pekin is a historic program, so it's an honor to come in here and get to play that game. I think they have now 6 losses in the opening round in the history of the tournament. Three of them are to us, including one in my first year, too, so I don't think they'll be scheduling us again anytime soon. It was great for us to come in here and be able to get the job done."
The Bears controlled the game from tip to final horn, outscoring the hosts 7-0 in the first 2 ½ minutes and using a 10-2 closing kick into halftime for a 29-18 lead.
From there, Sykes or Pezzella answered every time Pekin tried to rally, and LZ's defense stood strong, limiting the Dragons to 15 for 47 shooting from the field (3 of 18 from 3-point range).
Jack Kondrad (7 boards) and Kyle Tognetti (6 boards) also led a 33-21 Bears' edge on the glass.
"We have a limited roster this week with our starting center missing and a couple of backup guys out sick," Sykes said. "But we pulled together and got it done and that's a great feeling.
"As senior captains, we know it's up to us to make plays. We're expected to take the leadership role and make all the guys better."