Keeping Up with the Joneses: Part 9 - Season Finale

March 3   

IHSA regional semifinal @ St. Joseph High School (Westchester)
Jones 43, Chicago Bulls Prep 40
Leading scorer: Adrien 14
Record 22-6

"Defense never slumps."

That is a quote from a coach that has been repeated an infinite amount of times, but in high school basketball it rings true, especially with this team. Our offense couldn't get anything going tonight, partially because the opponent played a packed-in-style man defense that was almost a matchup zone. They doubled the post and dared us to shoot from the perimeter, which we did quite poorly for most of the game. But aside from their backcuts which they burned us with a couple of times in the first half, we played very good defense against their half court sets and allowed no fast break points for the entire game. It was a definite improvement from the De La Salle game where we were a turnstile to their fast break.

The game was ugly. Tied at 6 after one quarter and leading 20-14 at half, we stretched the lead to nine at 26-17 before we started inexplicably to turn the ball over by driving into the teeth of their defense without much ball pressure. And they made some really lucky shots; banked in threes, twos off the top of the backboard, and they were shooting a lot of foul shots. It almost seemed like we were fated to lose the game, especially after Ellington fouled out with 4:45 to go in the game. But our guys hung tough and competed on defense and we kept the lead despite missing a lot of free throws in the last 3 minutes.

Coach switched to our stall offense with four minutes to go and it was the best offense we ran in the game. There was no joy in the locker room after the game and a lot of kids were down on themselves for not playing well. Others were ticked because they didn't play. But Coach warned them all season about he was going to go with the guys that earned playing time in practice and our last three practices have been horrendous, so he played guys he could depend on to not be out of position and play hard. It's a life lesson.

We play the host team Friday and they are the # 1 seed with three D1 players, two guards going to Big Ten teams and a 6'11" center. We watched them play before us and they had it on cruise control, beating the opponent by 19. Their guards are bigger than our forwards. It looks daunting but Coach will come with something to slow them down. And our team can't play scared. We are the underdog and we aren't expected to win, so go out and compete our asses off, not like the De La Salle game, where some kids gave up.

By the way, justice was done. De La Salle lost in the first round of their regional tonight. Tsk tsk.

March 4   

We put in a new offense and defense at practice. The kids seem to grasp what we added and they understand the magnitude of playing the top seed at their home. We told them that NOBODY expects them to win and there is no pressure on them so they might as well play great.

We had a decent practice for a change. Their concentration levels were better.  On a side note I had to make cuts for the baseball team. It's the first time at Jones that we've had enough players to make cuts. And we cut some players from last year's team. It is the worst part of the job. It is never easy to dash kids' dreams no matter if they were serious about participating or not. And we have great kids at Jones. All of them shook my hand after the practice/tryout. Total class. Hopefully they will try out again next year.

March 6   

Regional final at St. Joseph (Westchester)
#1 St. Joseph 53, #8 Jones 40
Leading scorer Devin 14. Final record 22-7q

This game was a tough matchup for us. Their guards were bigger than our forwards, they had a 6'11" center, and everyone in their first eight were great athletes and could easily dunk. That being said, unlike the DeLaSalle game, we fought back when we were down and never gave up. The game was close early and we were only down 14-11 near the end of the first quarter when St. Joe's ran off 16 points in a row. The points came mainly off our turnovers as their 3/4 court ball pressure really bothered us and our ball handlers started getting sloppy because of their relentless wave of defense.

We only scored 3 points on a Devin 3 in the second quarter and we were down 34-14 at the half. There was no tearing down the guys at halftime. We wanted them to make better decisions with the ball and get back on defense. We put in a matchup zone for this game and we forced them to take bad shots, so we told them to continue to cover and fight on rebounds. And we really emphasized being strong with the ball and not backing down.

You know what, we didn't back down. We were scrappy and held our ground and made a couple of runs to cut their lead, so much so that 10 seconds into the 4th quarter, their legendary coach Gene Pingatore went to a stall offense to bring us out of our matchup zone.

The game got chippy after their center started using his elbows for no other reason than being a jerk, and Ellington responded by pushing him and basically saying knock it off. Double technicals. Pingatore took the center out of the game and he never returned. Plus one of their other players and Bryson had words and they got technicals. Our players were fired up and though again we were outmanned we competed to our maximum.

Devin had the best game of his career. He hit shots over much bigger people and showed range on his jumper. Plus he scrapped on the backboards. He fouled out early in the fourth quarter and that hurt our offense. Bryson really competed and had no fear. He's come a long way since the start of the season. And everyone tried to play defense. Our offense struggled but that happens against teams with superior athletes. We have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a great effort, typifying what the team was about all season. We made the most of our ability. Not many teams can make that statement. 22-7 and conference champs! A great legacy for those kids.