ALGONQUIN – Everything seemed to be a struggle for Jacobs against Addison Trail.
Early on, the Golden Eagles could not hit shots.
Then, when they did heat up, the Blazers, brimming with confidence after hanging around long enough, would not go away.
“We came out a little slow, I’m not going to lie,” Jacobs guard Nik Balkcom said. “We thought we were going to win no matter what. They came out ready to play a lot. That was a tough game. It was a game of toughness.”
Eventually, the Eagles made enough shots late to hold off the Blazers, 50-44, on Tuesday to win Pool I of the Hinkle Holiday Classic. It will be the fifth time in Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts’ five years that the Eagles are in the championship bracket.
Jacobs (9-2 overall, 3-0 Pool I) meets Crystal Lake South (7-5) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in a championship bracket semifinal. Barrington and Bartlett play in the first semifinal at 6 p.m.
Jacobs blew past Marian Central, 65-37, in the opening round, and Marian defeated Addison Trail, 50-37, in the second round.
“I don’t know if that Marian Central result the other night affected our kids’ approach coming in,” Roberts said. “If it did, I hope we learned something. You have to be ready to strap it on and compete, no matter who you’re playing every night. I don’t know how well we did that to start the game.”
Jacobs trailed, 18-11, early in the second quarter before closing with a 9-2 run. Balkcom scored nine in the quarter. The Eagles led most of the third and fourth quarters, but could not gain a comfortable margin on Addison Trail (6-6, 1-2).
“We can look back at this game and we had some chances,” Blazers coach Brendan Lyons said. “Around the basket, we just didn’t finish [enough]. They made some plays when they had to. We’re disappointed in the outcome, but not disappointed in the effort today.”
Jacobs’ Ryan Phillips hit a 3 with 3:32 remaining for a 41-39 lead, but Adem Mehmeti’s third three-point play of the game made it 42-41. Dan Murray responded with a basket inside for the Eagles, Phillips scored on a rebound basket, and Jacobs then hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute to seal the outcome.
“It’s just one of those games where each play matters and each play is big,” said Phillips, who scored 11 points. “Credit to them, they’re a fantastic team. We came back and played well, and we have to focus on tomorrow’s game.”
Balkcom led all players with 16 points, and Kameron Mack, who hit a pair of 3s in the third quarter, finished with 12.
“They were more ready to go [than us] tonight,” Roberts said. “We knew they play in a really good league and see really good competition. They’re going to be well-prepared. These situations are good. Now we want to play for a championship, and we have to take care of business [Wednesday] night. We can’t look ahead.”