Lyons cruises past Downers South in WSC crossover title game
Lyons Township coach Meghan Hutchens nicknamed sophomore Nora Ezike "Big Time." After a November game, Hutchens said that when Ezike figured out how be a force and someone people come to watch.
That time appears to have come.
For the second consecutive game, Ezike scored a career-high in points. The 6-foot-2 forward rode a dazzling first half to 24 points, powering Lyons to a 68-45 win over Downers Grove South in the West Suburban Conference crossover championship game at Addison Trail.
"Her last few weeks she's been outstanding," said Hutchens, whose team won the crossover title for the second straight year. "She's just more comfortable on the floor, doing what we expect. The more she plays, the better she is going to get."
Ezike, who received a Division I offer from Belmont in December, has a unique skill set for a player of her height and age. She is at her best facing the basket, runs the floor exceptionally well and plays the front of Lyons' zone press.
She showcased that ability early Wednesday, scoring on a driving layup from the top of the key for the game's first basket, and slashing for another score four minutes in. Her steal and score in transition gave Lyons a 24-10 lead midway through a second quarter in which she scored 14 of her 19 first-half points.
"It was open, so I was taking it and I'm glad I did because it was falling and my teammates were able to connect with me," said Ezike, who shot 7 of 8 from the floor, 9 for 14 on free throws and also had five rebounds and four steals.
It makes Lyons (26-4), which has hung its hat on its defense under Hutchens, dangerous at the other end as well. Elin O'Brien knocked down five 3-pointers and scored 15 points, and Lewis recruit Ally Cesarini had 13 points, four rebounds and two steals as Lyons won its 12th straight to end the regular season.
"There is a different player each game that stands out. That's what makes us special," Hutchens said. "We have kids who can do it all. We hope to ride this momentum into the postseason."
Cesarini scored 11 of her 13 points in the first half Wednesday, while the gritty defender alternated guarding Downers Grove South's Allison Jarvis and Emily Petring. Cesarini is one of a deep core back from last year's sectional finalist that is a No. 2 seed at Proviso East.
Downers Grove South (17-13), which wrapped up its first West Suburban Gold title since 2001 last week, never led in Wednesday's game. The Mustangs shot just 1 for 9 in the first quarter and were hurt by 14 first-half turnovers that fed Lyons' transition game, leading to a 38-19 halftime hole. Jarvis scored 11 points and Petring and freshman Megan Ganschow had nine points and nine rebounds for the Mustangs.
"We've drilled to the girls that you need to play really good defense and limit their transition and limit their turnovers. We had 14 first-half turnovers and a lot of those they scored easy baskets off of. That didn't help," Downers Grove South coach Lyndsie Long said. "When we were set in our halfcourt defense we played really well. Kudos to them, they're a fantastic team."
Downers Grove South shouldn't have much difficulty getting back up for their next game, a regional semifinal on Monday at home against Downers Grove North. The Trojans beat the Mustangs 73-31 in December, although Long said that leading scorer Petring played that game while under the weather.
"We have to focus on what we're doing in practice and carry it over to the games, and play like we know how," Long said. "There's really no excuse with how we played tonight."