LA GRANGE – It didn't take long for Lyons Township's boys basketball team to demonstrate the current team is very different from the Lions' squads of the past two years.
For one, they're winning more. LT went 2-1 against quality opposition in their own Thanksgiving tournament to open the season. They beat Argo 65-44 in the opener and Fenwick 71-60 in the tournament finale, only losing in overtime to Morton. LT won the tournament via tiebreaker.
The Lions are also drawing bigger crowds. A frenzied student section cheered on LT during the tourney, which was something the players noticed right away.
"We love the crowd support," junior guard Harrison Niego said. "That's definitely increased this year. It's a lot more fun playing in front of people. They're loud. It gives us a home court advantage."
Niego himself is also a different player from a year ago. As a sophomore last year, he was a steady point guard with obvious talent, but he said this year he's being more aggressive offensively. LT coach Tom Sloan called him a gym rat and the dedication to getting better showed in early games.
He put up a career-high 24 points against Argo and then nearly matched that two games later with 23 against Fenwick.
"Obviously, Harrison is a really good player," Sloan said. "That's why he was up with us last year. He has a lot of confidence and he's fundamentally sound, but we're more than just Harrison. We got contributions from a lot of guys."
Niego was LT's only double figure scorer against Argo, but senior forward Matt Mrazek added nine points and 15 rebounds. Omarr Gilbert stepped up with 18 points and nine assists in the 82-79 overtime loss to Morton on Friday. Sam Cybulski and Niego each scored 16 and Chris Hester added 15. In the tournament finale, Jim Cullen and Jaquan Phipps came off the bench to score 11 points each.
"We have four, five, six guys on the perimeter that can knock down shots," Sloan said. "Then you throw in Matt Mrazek, Chris Hester and Nathan Albertini, who are going to be a factor around the basket. Now that gives us a lot of options with which to score."
Griffin Furlong and Sean Lannan also played notable minutes to give the Lions a legitimate 10-player rotation.
The Lions look primed to be much improved from the squads that posted losing records each of the past two seasons, but their goals go beyond simply winning most of their games.
"We want to win a conference championship and we want to go deep in the playoffs," Niego said. "I think these guys on the team have worked real hard in the offseason. I know I've seen it. They've been working real hard on improving in both their skills and their physical strength and quickness."
LT 65, Argo 44
LT leaders: Harrison Niego 24 points; Matt Mrazek 9 points, 15 rebounds
Morton 82, LT 79 (OT)
LT leaders: Niego 16 points; Sam Cybulski 16 points; Chris Hester 15 points; Mrazek 7 points, 14 rebounds
LT 71, Fenwick 60
LT leaders: Niego 23 points; Jim Cullen 11 points; Jaquan Phipps 11 points