Basketball

High school boys basketball: Can tough defense carry Jacobs to another regional title?

Previewing local regionals with the postseason set to begin Monday

Crystal Lake Central had no delusions of what was coming in the fourth quarter from Jacobs on Jan. 30.

The Tigers led by 14 points, but they knew Jacobs, even on a night when it struggled to hit shots, was far from out of the game.

“That’s a team that’s used to winning. So when you’ve got a lead on them going into the fourth, you’re going to see everything,” Central coach Rich Czeslawski said. “You’re going to see them lock down on defense. You have to be really, really good to withstand that surge.”

The seconds could not tick off fast enough for Central that night. The Golden Eagles cranked up their defensive pressure, coaxing out one turnover after another. The Tigers almost held them off, in spite of 11 fourth-quarter turnovers.

Eventually, Jacobs got one last possession in regulation and scored on Kameron Mack’s driving bank shot to force overtime. Once in overtime, Jacobs prevailed, 62-55.

Central was not alone. Many teams have succumbed to Jacobs’ relentless man-to-man defense, which has become its trademark through a run of four Fox Valley Conference titles (two FVC Valley and two FVC) in the past four years, along with Class 4A regional championships in three of the previous four seasons.

The Eagles (24-3) will try to make it four regional championships in five years at the Class 4A Dundee-Crown Regional this week. They likely will be without leading scorer Ryan Phillips, a 6-foot-4 forward, but they have that defense on which to rely.

Eagles coach Jimmy Roberts said their defensive prowess comes from attention to detail.

“We do things to build toughness, and we hold them accountable for every little thing, every little mistake,” Roberts said. “To our kids’ credit, they respond to that, and they seem to want that. You have to have some special kids in your program. It’s hard to put into words and talk about how we defend and why our kids fight so hard, but a lot goes into it, and it takes years to build.”

Roberts is a true believer in man-to-man. He could recall only a couple of times this season when the Eagles have played zone.

“Preparation,” guard Ajani Rodriguez said. “We watch a bunch of film, make sure we get all their plays down. And we want to be physical. We know we can pressure – we have the players to do it. We know what we’re capable of, getting stops when we need to.”

Jacobs’ goal each half is to hold opponents to fewer than 20 points. The Eagles are close to that average for the season, allowing 42.6 for the season. In the past seven games, they have allowed more than 40 points only once. The most points they allowed all season came in a 67-63 win over Maine East in the season opener.

“We like to have that feeling that we control the game,” guard Nik Balkcom said. “It’s a matter of how we do on defense that determines how the game’s going to go. We’re going to put the ball in the hole, so you’re going to have a tough time.”

In recent years, Jacobs had 6-9 Cameron Krutwig in the middle to help make things even tougher for anyone driving to the basket. Krutwig now is starting at Loyola University, but the Eagles still have a formidable defense.

“They’re really long,” D-C coach Lance Huber said. “Mack’s long
(6-6), Balkcom’s deceptively long (6-3),
No. 22 (6-4 sophomore Jaden Henderson) is long. And they’re quick. That’s a pretty good combination. And they’re pretty strong. They’re a tough team defensively. They’re going to be a tough out in the tournament.”

Jacobs will play at 7 p.m. Tuesday against the winner of Monday’s game between Cary-Grove and Huntley. St. Charles East plays Wednesday against the winner of Monday’s second game between Dundee-Crown and Hampshire.

Jacobs hoped Phillips, who suffered a broken bone in his right (shooting) hand and missed the last six games of the regular season, might be able to return for the regional title game. Phillips was re-evaluated and had stitches taken out last week but is uncertain whether he can play by Friday.

“My hand feels good, but the bone’s still broken, which is not good,” he said. “The pain is not there. That’s good. But next Friday is probably not going to happen. I can dribble, but I can’t shoot. If we beat the Friday team and win a regional, I can probably get back for sectionals. It stinks to see my guys out there competing without me, but it is what it is. I try to do my best part to contribute off the court.”

Class 4A Crystal Lake South Regional

Jefferson is the top seed in Sub-Sectional B that feeds into the Jacobs Sectional, and the only nonlocal team playing this week at Gator Alley.

No. 4 seed McHenry and No. 5 Crystal Lake Central split their regular-season meetings and offer an interesting matchup in Wednesday’s semifinal. Jefferson plays Tuesday against the winner of Monday’s first-round game between South and Prairie Ridge.

McHenry is trying to win its first regional since 2012. Central last won a regional in 2013.

Jefferson will play fast and apply a lot of defensive pressure on opponents. The J-Hawks are seeking their first regional title since 2015.

Class 3A Marengo Regional

Richmond-Burton coach Brandon Creason may have had the best idea for picking a regional champion here. “Throw a dart, and pick your winner,” he said.

Marian Central, from the East Suburban Catholic Conference, joins five Kishwaukee River Conference members at Homer “Bill” Barry Gymnasium in a regional that should be ultra-competitive.

No. 2 Johnsburg (17-11) has the highest seed. No. 3 R-B (17-12) has won 10 of its past 12 games. No. 5 Marengo (15-10) won regionals two of the past three years and won a sectional last year. And No. 6 Marian Central (8-18) played one of the tougher schedules around and has wins over Johnsburg and R-B.

Even Woodstock, the No. 10 seed in the sub-sectional, almost knocked off Burlington Central, which went unbeaten in the KRC, last week.

“It’s evenly matched,” said Johnsburg coach Mike Toussaint, whose team won a regional in 2012. “It’s going to be fun. It’ll be competitive. I’m happy with where we’re at. We’re playing well. We struggled at times, but I like our chances. If we play well, we have a shot at winning it.”

Creason loves how his team has played since Lake Zurich’s Martin Luther King Jr. Tournament. The Rockets lost two games in overtime on last-second shots on MLK Day.

“They’ve responded to one of the worst days of basketball in IHSA history,” Creason said. “Losing one at the buzzer in OT is tough. Doing it twice in five hours is worse. We’ve had a lot of young guys responding to playing varsity basketball.”

The Rockets are trying to win their first regional title since 2006. Marian won a regional in 2013.

“The East Suburban Catholic is one of the toughest schedules around,” Hurricanes coach Curtis Price said. “It helps from a competitive standpoint, and hopefully that helps us in the regional this week. I don’t think any one team goes in as a favorite to win. The one who goes there and plays well will come out on top. We’ll go there and play hard and see what happens.”

Class 3A Marengo Regional

Monday

Game 1: (6) Marian Central vs. (9) Woodstock North, 6 p.m.

Game 2: (5) Marengo vs. (10) Woodstock, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday,

Game 3: (2) Johnsburg vs. Winner Game 1, 7 p.m.

Wednesday

Game 4: (3) Richmond-Burton vs. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m.

Friday

Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7 p.m.

Class 3A Belvidere Regional

Monday

Game 1: (8) Belvidere (8) vs. (11) Harvard, 7 p.m.

Tuesday

Game 2: (1) Boylan vs. Winner Game 1, 7 p.m.

Wednesday

Game 3: (4) Rockford Lutheran vs. (7) Genoa-Kingston, 7 p.m.

Friday

Game 4: Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 3, 7 p.m.

Class 4A Crystal Lake South Regional

Monday

Game 1: (7) Crystal Lake South vs. (10) Prairie Ridge, 7 p.m.

Tuesday

Game 2: (1) Jefferson vs. Winner Game 1, 7 p.m.

Wednesday

Game 3: (4) McHenry vs. (6) Crystal Lake Central, 7 p.m.

Friday

Game 4: Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 3, 7 p.m.

Class 4A Dundee-Crown Regional

Monday

Game 1: (8) Cary-Grove vs. (10) Huntley, 6 p.m.

Game 2: (6) Dundee-Crown vs. (11) Hampshire, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday

Game 3: (2) Jacobs vs. Winner Game 1, 7 p.m.

Wednesday

Game 4: (3) St. Charles East vs. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m.

Friday

Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7 p.m.

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