LA GRANGE – Tom Sloan considers this Lyons Township team a work in progress.
The Lions don’t lack experience at guard. Not with senior Lazarius Williams and juniors Tyrese Shines and Nolan Niego around.
LT took a hit, though, before the season when 6-foot-5 Ryan Barker and 6-4 Jack Denning were both lost to torn ACLs.
“They both would have been significant players for us – they played all summer,” said Sloan, LT’s coach. “We have experience on the perimeter, but the guys in the frontcourt really have no experience. We’re improving every time out.”
The Lions’ most recent game was a lone exception.
Downers Grove North’s talented junior backcourt of Semaj Henderson and Eddie Boston scored 23 and 20 points, respectively, in the Trojans’ 63-42 win over the Lions in the West Suburban Silver Conference opener Dec. 2.
The Trojans (5-0, 1-0) hit eight 3-pointers, three of them by Boston. Downers Grove North led 14-6 after a quarter, 26-19 at halftime and then blew things open in the second half.
“We have a lot of guys that can shoot it,” Downers Grove North coach Jim Thomas said. “The kids are shooting with confidence.”
LT (2-4, 0-1) was coming off an emotional, dramatic 56-55 win over Riverside-Brookfield the night before in the Chicago Elite Classic at UIC.
The hangover showed.
The Lions were just 2 for 14 in the first quarter. Shines, who hit the game-winner against R-B, scored 14 points and Matt Sloyan had 13 against Downers Grove North.
“We played at a level below the way we’ve been playing, and some of that probably has to do with Downers Grove North,” Sloan said. “They shot the ball well in streaks, and made some tough shots. We didn’t guard them very well at times. We had three defensive breakdowns in the first quarter that gave them wide-open 3-point shots. And they made all of them.”
The R-B game was a barnburner, played in front of a big crowd that grew as the game wore on.
Sloan estimated that neither team got a defensive stop over the last eight possessions. Niego made a 3-pointer and Robert Spencer a tip-in to give LT back the lead.
On LT’s final possession, Shines rebounded his own miss and scored the game-winner.
“The kids had a blast. It was a real fun atmosphere for the kids,” Sloan said. “It was a really big crowd, the kids played well in the first half and then it looked like the size of the [college] court affected us. We ran out of steam a little but we mustered enough to make plays down the stretch.”
The home game with Downers Grove North had its own excitement that had nothing to do with the game itself.
At halftime, LT honored its 1953 state champions that went 29-0. Two members of that team were on hand to accept a plaque commemorating the season. One of them, Ted Caiazza, broke individual game and tournament scoring records for the 1953 team.
This LT team has a tough road game ahead this weekend against Oak Park, projected by many the odds-on favorite in the Silver.
“Take away that Downers Grove North game, we have been improving every time we take the court,” Sloan said, “and that is the goal. We just weren’t sharp that night.”