Junior reserve forward Graham Smith and his Lyons Township High School boys basketball teammates knew beating Proviso East again –this time on its home court –would be challenging.
The Lions responded with a season-high scoring total to hold off the inspired Pirates 88-71 in the Class 4A Proviso East Regional final on Feb. 25.
The Lions had defeated Proviso East 76-46 on Jan. 22 in LaGrange.
“We held no expectations coming into this game, even knowing we had beaten them previously,” Smith said. “We were coming into this game like we hadn’t played them at all. We took this game super seriously.”
LTHS (25-5), the No. 3 seed in the Proviso West Sectional, captured its first regional title since 2019. The Lions meet No. 2 Curie (26-6) at 7 p.m. on March 2 in the sectional semifinals.
The sectional final is 7 p.m. on March 4 against No. 1 Whitney Young or No. 4 Riverside-Brookfield High School. The UIC Supersectional for a downstate berth is at 7:30 p.m. on March 7 against the Thornwood Sectional champion.
LTHS senior Tavari Johnson collected 26 points with 10 assists and the Lions had four other players in double figures – Smith (14 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists), senior Billy Bach (11 points, 3 threes). Senior Will Carroll and junior Nik Polonowski each had 10 points and six rebounds apiece. Junior Jackson Niego added eight points and senior Aidan Sullivan six assists.
The Lions made 35 of 55 shots (64 percent) with six three-pointers and 12 of 19 free throws. They also had 23 assists and only 15 turnovers.
“It was definitely one of our best performances of the year,” LTHS coach Tom Sloan said. “The way Proviso East plays with the heavy pressure defense, it lends itself to an up-and-down game. Our guys did a really nice job of handling the ball and taking advantage of opportunities when they were there.”
The Lions average about 60 points per game and were coming off a 49-36 regional semifinal victory over Leyden. Their previous season high had come beating Marian Central Catholic 85-55 on Jan. 15.
No. 5 Proviso East (22-8) led 23-18 early in the second quarter before a 12-point period from Johnson helped LTHS pull ahead 44-34 by halftime. Polonowski had a nine-point third quarter with two threes.
“We shared the ball well. We didn’t turn the ball over a lot like we did last time. We really locked in on the defensive end,” said Johnson, who averages a team-best 17 points.