JOLIET – Saturday’s championship game of the 10th annual Tiger Thanksgiving Classic pitted two former champions as Lincoln-Way East, who won in 2017, played the host Tigers from Joliet West, who last won in 2016.
This title game was decided midway through the first quarter as West went on a 15-1 run to go up 18-6. The Griffins would get no closer than 12 points the rest of the way as the Tigers won, 65-40, to claim their fourth title in the history of the tournament.
After Matt Wasso scored the Griffins’ first five points to give them a 5-3 lead with 6:07 left in the first quarter, West went to work with a smothering defense that led to six first quarter turnovers by East, and five different Tigers scored during the 15-1 run to give them an 18-6 lead with 1:28 left in the quarter.
West (4-0) extended that lead to 34-16 at the half as it once again held East to three field goals in the second quarter as the Tigers forced the Griffins into 19 turnovers.
“That run we made in the first quarter was because of our defense,” first-year West coach Jeremy Kreiger said. “We are teaching our team that we must play defense at a different level and that will lead to the offense.”
Tigers senior Jamere Hill was named the tournament’s MVP after he scored 10 points in the game and 81 over the four games. He also added four rebounds on the day.
“We only won one game in this tournament last year and the difference this year is how close this team is, it’s a family from the coaches to every player,” Hill said. “We came into this tournament really focused and we play for each other. The MVP award is nice, but winning as a team is what is important.
“The maturity level has really improved over last year and it really showed this week, especially in our first games of the season.”
The Tigers’ Trent Howland saved his best performance for the young season for the championship game, leading the Tigers with 17 points and eight rebounds, as the 6-foot, 3-inch junior did most of his work on the inside.
“This really feels good and we really came together as a unit this week,” Howland said. “This group has a lot of fun together and that is important. The transition from football to basketball was a little more difficult this year, but I’m finally getting used to basketball, not only in practice, but also the games. The more we play, the better I will get, along with our team.”
The Griffins (3-1) cut the Tigers’ lead to 12 points twice in the third quarter, but could get no closer as West had nine players score points and eight who grabbed rebounds.
“We want everyone who earns minutes to contribute and they did that today,” Kreiger said. “We knew having four games this week along with the Thanksgiving break, we would need all of our players to contribute and they did. The maturity this team has showed is because of the relationships they have built with each other. When you are a family you count on each other; it’s not about one or two people, it’s everyone and that is so important.
“Starting 4-0 is fun, but we still need to work on better help-side defense, we have to hit the outside shot at a higher percentage and space the floor a little better. If we can get those things done, this could be a special type of season.”
East was led by Ryan Sierocki with 11 points. He also had six rebounds to make the all-tournament team along with teammate Jhei-R Jones.
“It is what it is for the week,” East coach Rich Kolimas said. “We had two weeks to prepare to play four games. We were very fortunate to win our first game against Plainfield South, and then today we run into a very good pressure defense that West has. But I did see progress over the week and we found out a lot about our team.”
Lincoln-Way Central 60, Plainfield South 52: In the third-place game, Lincoln-Way Central defeated Plainfield South. Leading the way for the Knights (3-1) was Nick Tingley with 24 points and Matt Maloney had 13 points, while Sean Curran was named all-tournament. Timothy Williams scored 24 points to lead the Cougars (2-2) and also was all-tournament.