Eagles collect pair of SWSC Blue victories
By double digits, Sandburg doubled its pleasure last week.
Coming off a rugged stretch of schedule that pitted his team against five straight quality opponents, Eagles coach Todd Allen was simply hoping for a bit of an easier time. He wasn’t expecting Sandburg to breeze past either Lincoln-Way East or Joliet Central, but based on earlier returns, Allen felt the Eagles should very definitely be strong contenders in both SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue contests.
They had, in fact, defeated the Griffins in a previous matchup. The outcome wasn’t as favorable versus the Steelmen, but that was mostly due to an inopportune scoring drought that plagued Sandburg and turned a five-point deficit into an eventual 17-point loss.
And in both rematches, the Eagles indeed ruled. First, they systematically wore down Lincoln-Way East by outscoring it in each of the first three quarters to bag a 62-52 win on Tuesday. Three days later at home, Sandburg used a 24-point barrage in the fourth period to down Joliet Central 55-43.
When asked if the twin triumphs represented the beginning of a late-season push for his squad, Allen replied: “I’d like to think so. We’re looking forward to finishing up strong.”
That’s definitely what the Eagles (8-12, 4-5) did against the Steelmen. Most of the damage inflicted by Sandburg came at the foul line, where it deposited 16 free throws in the last eight minutes, half of which were delivered by Niko Cahue. The senior forward also hit a bucket, while junior guard Niko Kogionis drilled a pair of 3-pointers that enabled the hosts to pull away from Joliet Central a bit after the teams entered the final quarter tied at 31-all.
Allen claimed that, with the exception of Bolingbrook, clubs within the SWSC Blue are “kind of jammed up,” meaning no outcome should really rank as a surprise. However, even the Raiders are sometimes susceptible, as was proved last Tuesday when they suffered their initial league loss at the Steelmen’s hands.
“They were coming off a really big win, 57-54, over Bolingbrook, so we were obviously prepared and ready [for Joliet],” Allen said.
How much so was illustrated by Sandburg’s 10-1 break from the gate in the opening quarter. But before the Eagles could run away and hide, the Steelmen turned the tables by outscoring the home team 17-6 in the second stanza.
Sandburg netted just one field goal in that period, in part because both Kogionis and Eric Straka were saddled with foul trouble.
“Some coaches debate [what to do] when you have guys with two fouls in the first half,” Allen said. “Do you let them play or not? Since the game was still close, we decided to play it safe and let them sit for a while.”
Kogionis returned to supply Sandburg with five of its points in the third quarter and finished the contest with 16, second only to Cahue’s 24 points. With the latter’s handiwork factored in, the Eagles ended the evening 20-of-25 at the foul line, which helped them offset 15 turnovers.
Lincoln-Way East 52
When the Eagles and Griffins clashed earlier this season, Lincoln-Way East employed a man-to-man defense. As evidenced by Sandburg’s 71-50 victory then, that strategy did not pay off very well for the Griffins, so last Tuesday they stationed themselves in a zone.
Lincoln-Way East’s latest plan backfired, too, as the Eagles hit 6-of-9 3-pointers in the opening half. That showing allowed Sandburg to bring a 33-25 lead with it into intermission.
“Against a 1-2-2 zone, you have to make some outside shots, and we were pretty efficient offensively,” Allen said. “[But] I was a little concerned at halftime.”
The reason why was understandable — he simply didn’t think the Eagles could continue their torrid success rate. Allen, however, was mistaken as they connected on 59 percent of their shots for the game.
Kogionis (19 points), Cahue (16, including eight in the first quarter) and Straka (12) were Sandburg’s scoring leaders, but also playing a huge role was guard Alec Martinez, whose stats line featured nine points, seven rebounds and three assists. Martinez paced the Eagles in the latter two categories, and he, Kogionis and Peter Paxinos were responsible for unleashing the 3-point barrage on the Griffins.
“We had pretty balanced scoring and I’m fairly happy with our effort,” Allen said. “Lincoln-Way East started pressing us [later on] and I was a little disappointed that we turned it over 17 times, but we kind of regrouped a little bit after that tough stretch [of schedule].
“It was a different Lincoln-Way East team than we saw before — they were running some different things offensively, too — but I’m not sure if we ever trailed. On the road, it was a good conference win.”
Sandburg hosted Lockport this past Tuesday in another SWSC Blue encounter and travels to Joliet West on Friday.
Sandburg 14 19 10 19 - 62
Lincoln-Way East 7 18 5 22 - 52
Sandburg Scoring: Kogionis 19, Cahue 16, Straka 12, Martinez 9, Paxions 5, Vorva 1. Rebounds: Martinez 7. Assists: Martinez 3.
Joliet Central 1 17 13 12 - 43
Sandburg 10 6 15 24 - 55
Sandburg Scoring: Cahue 24, Kogionis 16, Straka 6, Paxinos 5, Martinez 4.