By Drake Skleba
For the Bugle
LIBERTYVILLE – Survive and Advance.
The above statement clearly illustrates the only answer for Notre Dame boys basketball coach Tom Les and his Dons, after their 62-56 victory over Glenbrook North (13-15), in Tuesday’s Class 4A Libertyville Regional opener.
Outplayed by the underdog Spartans, Notre Dame (24-5), led by seniors Malik Jenkins and Chris Heinichen, rallied past Glenbrook North, in the last 2:38 of the contest.
With 2:48 left in the game, Glenbrook North’s Jim Karris, hit a pair of free throws to put the Spartans back on top 52-51. Karris took home game scoring honors, with 18 points. Heinichen (nine points, three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot), put the Dons back on top, ten seconds later, after completing an old-fashioned three-point play, 54-52.
With 2:18 left, Jenkins (13 points, three rebounds, two steals), stole a Spartan pass and completed his own, old-fashioned three-point play, to extend the Don’s lead to 57-52 with 2:18 left. On successive Spartan possessions, Heinichen, had a huge rejection of a Spartan shot and then on the next Spartan possession, Jenkins came down with a huge rebound.
“We did not play well tonight,” Heinichen said. “I missed a number of shots in the first half and we have to play better Friday.”
Glenbrook North’s Tommy Gertner ( eight points) would not quit and scored a pair of buckets, to bring the Spartans within 58-56 with 13.5 seconds left. Jenkins was fouled and went to the line with two very important charity tosses.
“We practice this exact situation, in practice everyday.” Jenkins said. “It was not a problem.”
Jenkins nailed both free throws and after Don senior sixth-man, John Loucks ( eight points), steal and two more perfect free throws, the Dons had survived and advanced.
“We played very poorly tonight and Glenbrook North clearly was the better team and should have won the game,” Les said. “We did play very well and made some big plays, to win the game, in the last two minutes. For us to advance against Niles North on Friday, we must play much better or we will go home.”
The game featured 17 lead changes and eight ties, as both clubs came out shooting hotter, than the balmy 60-degree temperatures, outside in Libertyville. Both teams shot 65% from the floor in the first half, as Notre Dame clung to a 35-34 lead. Dons senior Matt Stritzel, who tied Jenkins for Dons scoring honors with 13, driving layup at the halftime buzzer, gave the Dons the slim one point lead.
With 38 seconds left in the third quarter, Notre Dame’s 6-8 junior Dusan Mahoric ( six points) scored, to give the Dons a 42-40 lead. A Stritzel steal and perfect pass to 6-6 Don senior, Jeameril Wilson (10 points, eight rebounds) made it 44-40, before Glenbrook North’s Sean Merrigan’s ( six points four rebounds) scored at the third quarter buzzer, to pull the Spartans within two at 44-42, after three quarters.
Next up for Notre Dame, is a Friday, March 3, Class 4A Libertyville Regional Championship Game date, versus Niles North (21-9) at 7. The Vikings ousted Warren 62-60, following the Dons’ victory on Tuesday, in the second regional semifinal.
“We didn’t play well until the last two minutes of the game,” Wilson said. “I did a good job on the glass but I should have played much better defense. We know Niles North is a good team and we look to play better on Friday.”