By Steve Metsch
Echoing a sentiment heard often these days after the long-delayed boys’ basketball season finally started in Illinois, Lyons coach Tom Sloan said the best thing about being back on the court was that “the kids had fun.”
“They got out here, they got to play a real game,” Sloan said. “That’s what it’s supposed to be all about. Win, lose or draw, I was happy the kids got a chance to play.”
The Lions opened the season with a 69-61 victory over Morton on Feb. 12 in Cicero. Lyons jumped to a 20-8 lead and held off several Mustang rallies.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there were no fans, no cheerleaders and no pep band. In the eerie quiet, squeaking sneakers echoed through the gym. Sloan could be clearly heard shouting “shooter, shooter” whenever Morton senior Jesus Perez touched the basketball.
Sloan had good reason for concern.
The 5-foot-8 Perez led all players with 29 points. Junior Elisio Gonzalez added 24. But Morton’s other players scored just 8 combined points.
“We had a pretty good effort on defense,” Sloan said. “Perez and No. 11 (Gonzalez) can really score, so that was quite a challenge. We did a pretty good job on the defensive backboard. Not perfect, but we battled.”
Lyons drained six 3-pointers — four by senior Christian Desimone — to lead 20-13 after the first quarter. The closest Morton got after that was 27-24 in the second quarter.
“They started off playing a zone, and with the guys hitting those threes early, it kind of changed the way they approached defense,” Sloan said.
Morton Coach Tony Martinucci agreed.
“They shot us out of the zone,” he said.
Martinucci’s team is young, with sophomores Adrian Anderson, Victor Garrett and Aaron Miramontes making their varsity debuts.
“Playing with (Perez) will make them better,” Martinucci said. “They’re good, but they’ve got to learn. We’ll get there.”
Lyons had three players in double figures. Desimone scored 16 points and senior Cade Nelson scored 14. Junior Tavari Johnson made a splash in his varsity debut, scoring 15 of his 23 points in the second half.
“I’m very happy,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a great team effort.”
Playing without fans helped, he said.
“There are no (opposing) fans yelling at you the whole game,” he explained. “You get to focus when you play with no fans.”
The required wearing of face masks was a challenge.
“You get tired quicker,” Johnson said. “It’s harder to breathe, but the water breaks halfway through really help.”
Games this season include 90-second timeouts midway through every quarter.
The Lions helped themselves with impressive free throw shooting, going 13 of 15 at the line. Morton was 12 of 20.
Perez said the game came down to missed free throws, but was encouraged by the Mustangs’ desire.
“The good thing is the younger players on our team didn’t give up,” Perez said. “They play hard. I know me and Elisio scored most of the points, but without defense we probably would’ve lost by a lot more.”
Johnson said 3-point shooting early opened up the floor and allowed him to drive the lane. Twice after Johnson missed layups, junior Elliot Russell (eight points) was there to grab the rebound and score.
“I was really proud of our effort,” Sloan said. “It was ugly at times, especially late against the pressure. We turned it over a little too much, but the kids shared the ball with one another and found open guys.”