STERLING – Icy roads and icy first-half shooting couldn’t stop Willowbrook’s boys basketball team from making a trip downstate worth it.
In the Warriors’ first year competing at the Martin Luther King tournament in Sterling, they captured the championship with a 4-0 record.
On Jan. 16, they downed a tough United Township team 52-47 and only 30 minutes later polished off their slate with a 70-64 win against Belvidere North for the title.
Originally, the Warriors (16-1) were supposed to have a rest period on Jan. 16, but when Lake Forest Academy backed out because of the weather conditions, the rare back-to-back opportunity presented itself.
“It’s kind of no different than in summer league,” Willowbrook coach Chris Perkins said. “You usually play back-to-back games or three games within four hours. It’s something they were accustomed to, just never done it in a real live game. But I told them, it’s the same kind of concept. Our bodies are loose, we’re already lathered up and got a sweat, so let’s come out.”
“It’s not really that bad because we’ve done three games back-to-back,” Warriors junior Marshawn Phillips said. “There really wasn’t pressure. We just had to come out aggressive and get the ‘W.’”
The Warriors shot a dismal 5 for 22 from the field in the first half against United (18-3), including a 1-for-10 showing from 3-point range. Foul trouble hurt the Warriors early as junior Matthew Myers was called for two fouls in the first 2:48 of the game and Phillips had three fouls before halftime.
United’s lead grew to as many as 17 points with 3:10 to go in the third. Despite the foul trouble, Phillips led the Warriors’ charge in the third quarter with eight points as Willowbrook closed the deficit to 41-33 entering the fourth.
With the momentum, the Warriors amped up their defensive pressure in the fourth quarter. Phillips had three of his team’s six fourth-quarter steals, despite picking up his fourth foul with 6:07 remaining.
Behind the hot shooting of Iman Reynolds, the Warriors clawed back to tie it at 44-44 after the second of his three treys. Freddie Clay and Ethan Schuemer then had buckets to push Willowbrook ahead 48-44 with 1:23 to go.
“We came to the locker room and had to rediscuss everything,” Phillips said. “We had to come out with enough pressure and go all out. I really wanted to win that game, so I didn’t want to let us down.”
Reynolds led the Warriors with 18 points, 15 of which came in the second half. Phillips added 10 points, six assists and five steals. Schuemer pulled down 10 rebounds and had seven points.
Schuemer, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, led the Warriors with 22 points in the win over Belvidere North. Phillips added 13 in the victory. North led 28-27 at halftime, but Perkins didn’t want to take any risks running a man-to-man defense in the second half and instead opted for a half-court zone.
“Belvidere did a good job pushing it and getting easy layups because our guys were slow to get back,” Perkins said. “The kids pulled through and made enough plays.”
The Warriors have a crucial West Suburban Gold game against Downers Grove South on Jan. 20 and are looking to carry the momentum forward.
“They’re a real good team,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to have three good practices [before that game].”