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Boys basketball: Stingy defense not enough for Lincoln-Way Central

NEW LENOX – Lincoln-Way Central played excellent defense in its Southwest Suburban Conference Red matchup at home against Thornton on Friday, but its struggles on offense prevented it from taking advantage in a 40-38 loss.

Despite its size disadvantage, Lincoln-Way Central played lockdown defense in the post and denied the Wildcats decent looks from point-blank range.

No Thornton player scored in double digits as the Knights held the Wildcats 20 points below their season average through the first seven games of the season.

“I thought the tempo was at the pace we wanted it, but to their credit, their pressure defense got to us,” Knights coach Bob Curran said. “We had too many turnovers. I think we had 17 of them. But a lot of guys were in situations they aren’t used to because we’re missing [point guard Sean Curran]. Usually, we’re able to get the ball up the floor a lot easier. But defensively, they hung in there, and we did a lot of good things, and we had a chance,”

“Their pressure just hurt us too much. We’ve been playing bigger [players] all year. Our guys play stronger, and we didn’t get hurt too bad on the glass,” he added. “There were a lot of positives. It’s just that when you’re that small, your guard play needs to be better.”

Sean Curran’s absence over the past five games has had a demonstrable impact for the Knights. Over a 10-day span early last month, Central went on a five-game tear. In the five games since losing their point man, however, they’ve dropped four of them.

For a relatively young squad, losing a team leader can make a big difference.

“We went through that stretch, but all four of our losses were all by one possession. It was just one of those things where we kept losing in close games,” Bob Curran said. “[Sean] being out for the last five games now has really hurt us in terms of setting up the offense. Usually, we’re in attack mode. But now, it seems like teams have really been able to pressure us and put us on our heels.”

The Knights are 8-8 overall, but not much more than a few possessions have kept them from a winning record. Seven of those eight losses have been decided by three points or fewer.

With five sophomores on the roster, the fact that Central has been in all but one of their games to the bitter end bodes well moving forward.

They just couldn’t manage a final push down the stretch.

After trailing for the first three quarters, the Knights finally pulled within three points with around four minutes left in regulation. They held Thornton to a measly four points in the fourth quarter, but a pair of unproductive possessions ultimately sunk Central.

The first ended on a wild 3-point attempt from Nathan Purcell that would have been a deep 3 in the NBA, and the second was a full 30 seconds in which the Knights failed to do anything beyond swinging the ball back and forth around the perimeter.

The Wildcats hunkered down precisely when they needed to, while Central’s offense stalled out.

“We’re young. We have five sophomores up here playing,” coach Curran said. “They’re getting great experience, but one of the reasons they are up here is to look at their mistakes, learn from them and improve.

“Sometimes it’s easier with younger kids to keep that focus because seniors can get to be set in their ways,” he added. “So we have a nice mixture, so hopefully, the youth with the veterans can keep the energy going. It’s just about finding that little bit extra and winning those close games.”

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