CRYSTAL LAKE – There's a good reason why so many coaches use the "defense wins championships" cliche in every sport.
Because it's usually the truth.
Jacobs proved once again how much that saying matters during its Fox Valley Conference boys basketball showdown against Crystal Lake South on Saturday.
After a seesaw first half that included 14 lead changes, which allowed South to take a two-point lead at half, the Golden Eagles came out of the locker room with a relentless man-to-man defensive effort that propelled them to a 52-37 victory.
Jacobs (12-2 overall, 4-0 FVC) held South scoreless the entire third quarter, as the Gators (7-8, 3-1) missed their first 15 shots of the second half. The drought was broken at the 6:50 mark of the fourth quarter thanks to a Kyle Leva layup.
But by that time, the Eagles already had built a commanding 14-point lead. South compounded its own shooting woes by committing 11 second-half turnovers, after committing only four the entire first half.
"I can handle us missing shots," South coach Matt LePage said. "What I can't handle is us not taking care of the basketball. If we hadn't turned the ball over so much in the later stages of the game, we would've been within striking distance. Credit Jacobs' kids. They're long at every position, they're physical, and they don't give you easy looks at all. It's non-stop pressure from them."
Although it's still early in the season, the win also put Jacobs in sole possession of first place in the conference. They're now the lone team without an FVC loss.
Eagles' senior guard Ryan Phillips was one of only two starters on either team to shoot over 50 percent, as he went 8 of 11 from the field for a game-high 18 points. He also grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double.
"It's always fun to be in first in your conference, and it definitely gives us a boost of confidence knowing we took over first on South's home floor," Phillips said. "But at the same time, we also know that teams now are going to be gunning for us. We're gonna have a target on our backs the rest of the season, so we better be ready."
It didn't hurt that Jacobs caught fire offensively in the second half, either.
After shooting only 28 percent (7 for 25) from the field in the first half, they drained 13 of their final 19 shots, or a 68.4 percent clip. Kameron Mack (15 points) and Daniel Murray (seven points), who made three of his four shots, both helped boost those numbers.
Jacobs called only one timeout all game, midway through the fourth quarter, when Phillips got trapped in the corner with the ball, prompting a scowl on the face of Eagles' coach Jimmy Roberts, whose team was otherwise on cruise control down the stretch.
"Anytime you have five senior starters on the floor, like we do, that experience tends to make a huge difference," Roberts said. "With all they've gone through as a group, they should generally be poised out there, and for the most part, we were. Though one thing I didn't like was us turning the ball over 11 times in the second half. That needs to be cleaned up."
It was the second time Jacobs beat South this season. The Eagles also won by double-digits at the Hinkle Classic the third week of December, 54-40.
Gators' starting point guard Ben Geske missed Saturday's contest with the flu.
"Guys like Jonathan Holloway (six points) and sophomore Tyler Miller (five points) stepped up and did a solid job in Ben's absence," LePage said. "We just played too timid and lacked energy and aggressiveness when we needed it most. Jacobs is gonna be tough for anyone facing them to beat."
STAR OF THE GAME
Ryan Phillips, Jacobs, sr., G
Phillips shot 8 of 11 from the field for a game-high 18 points, while also pulling down 10 rebounds.
0: Points scored by Crystal Lake South in the third quarter. The Gators had a two-point halftime lead before that.
AND ANOTHER THING
Jacobs took over sole possession of first place in the Fox Valley Conference with Saturday's victory.
Jacobs 52, Crystal Lake South 37
Jacobs 13 9 14 16 – 52
Crystal Lake South 12 12 0 13 – 37
Phillips 8 0-3 18, Mack 4 4-7 15, Murray 3 1-1 7, Rodriguez 1 2-2 4, Pinsel 2 0-0 4, Balkcom 1 0-0 2, Price 1 0-0 2, Henderson 0 0-0 0, Volenec 0 0-0 0, Ramsey 0 0-0 0, Lyons 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 7-14 52.
Crystal Lake South (37)
Leva 5 1-1 11, Murphy 3 0-0 9, Holloway 2 0-0 6, Haskin 3 0-2 6, Miller 2 0-0 5, Reall 0 0-0 0, Kuffel 0 0-0 0, Jenkins 0 0-0 0, Lawson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 1-3 37.
3-point field goals: Crystal Lake South 6 (Murphy 3, Holloway 2, Miller). Jacobs 5 (Mack 3, Phillips 2).
Total team fouls: Crystal Lake South 15, Jacobs 9.
Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None.