Junior Nik Polonowski is adjusting quickly to joining the Lyons Township High School boys basketball team’s varsity roster.
“We’ve gotten super lucky. We’ve known we were going to be good for a while so the past two years the seniors have gotten in the gym with us and said, ‘If we want to go far, we’ve got to start now,’” Polonowski said. “We’ve been together in the gym building good chemistry.”
The Lions also overcame a big adjustment in winning their four-team, round-robin LT Tournament with a 3-0 record.
LTHS defeated Lincoln-Way East 58-51 on Nov. 24 in LaGrange after winning their first two games minus senior standout and Akron recruit Tavari Johnson. The Lions beat Maine South 45-40 on Nov. 23 and Fenger 55-45 on Nov. 22.
“I don’t think that we really changed anything [without Johnson]. We just played with a lot of effort, made sure to box out, especially against Lincoln-Way East. They had some big guys,” LTHS senior guard Aidan Sullivan said.
“It was a little change-up [without Johnson] but I think it was good experience for all of us. And we had junior Jackson Niego step up. He’s a pretty good point guard. I love having him.”
Sullivan, usually Johnson’s backcourt mate, collected a team-best 33 tournament points while Polonowski and senior Billy Bach had 29 apiece. Junior Graham Smith (17) and Sullivan and senior Will Carroll (16 each) led in rebounds and Niego led with seven assists and five steals.
LTHS led Lincoln-Way East most of their game. Pairs of free throws in the final 25.5 seconds by Niego, Johnson and Polonowski sealed the victory after the Griffins closed to 52-49 on a three-pointer. Those three and Sullivan finished with between 11 and 9 points.
“Fenger, Maine South and Lincoln-Way East are all good teams, tough. Defensively, they’re very good,” said LTHS coach Tom Sloan. “To get two wins without Tavari not playing was really big for us. It’s good experience for everybody, so hopefully that’ll help us as a team as the season goes along.”
Even with Johnson, LTHS would have needed to elevate its game against Lincoln-Way East, especially with defensive rebounds. Polonowski had six of the Lions’ 15.
“Those rebounds are all just who wants it more. You’ve got to have it in your heart to say, ‘I want to go get that ball,’” Polonowski said.
“We lost the rebounding battle in the first half and then won the rebounding battle in the second half. That’s a big reason we won the game,” Sloan said.
Bach had 16 points and Sullivan nine rebounds against Maine South. Sullivan scored 14 against Fenger.
Polonowski said other big contributors didn’t even play.
“Off the court, the energy is crazy,” Polonowski said. “Guys like that are really helping us win these games. It’s not the kids who score the points. It’s the kids who hype us up after we score.”