Nik Polonowski (shown above in action last season) scored 16 points on four 3-pointers during the Lions’ 57-29 win over defending state champ Glenbard West in Glen Ellyn on Dec. 10. LTHS lost to a historically good Hilltoppers squad three times last season. | FILE

Last season’s strong Lyons Township boys basketball team still suffered three double-digit losses at the hands of phenomenal 2022 Class 4A state champion Glenbard West. 

Tremendous defense allowed the Lions to savor that kind of victory at the Hilltoppers’ expense on Dec. 10.

“Going into this, I was telling all of the boys that we owed them 60 points from last year,” joked LTHS senior Nik Polonowski.  

The Lions made an early statement in the West Suburban Conference Silver race with a 57-29 road victory after limiting Glenbard West to just a three-pointer the entire third quarter and six points on two threes over the first 13:19 of the second half.

Matthew DeSimone

The Lions (6-0, 2-0) turned their 23-17 halftime lead into blowout.

“I think it’s a foundation of our team. It’s defense,” senior guard Jackson Niego said. “[Those Glenbard West losses are] definitely in the back of your mind but we knew new year, new team, so we kind of came into the game with no expectations.”

Niego had 18 points with two 3-pointers and Polonowski had 16 points with four threes. Matthew DeSimone (8 points with 2 threes), Graham Smith (6 points, 9 rebounds), Connor Carroll (4 rebounds, 4 assists) and Carter Reid (3 points, 3 rebounds) also contributed.

Jackson Niego

The Hilltoppers (5-2, 1-1) graduated all five starters from one of the greatest teams in Illinois history that swept the Lions 71-34, 60-28 and 62-50 last season.

“No one game is more important, but this is something that will help the kids build confidence,” LTHS coach Tom Sloan said. “It’s been a while since we’ve had an opportunity to have a lead in a game against a really good Glenbard team. And they’re good. The guys played really well, especially in the second half. A 12-point second half is a pretty good defense.” 

Glenbard West hung tough in a deliberate first half in which both teams had just 20 possessions. The Lions maintained the lead behind 8-for-15 shooting with five threes and began pulling away by holding Glenbard West scoreless the final 3:52 and scoring the last five points on a Niego three and Smith putback. 

Niego had an eight-point third quarter and scored the Lions’ first three baskets of the period followed by a Smith putback for a 31-17 lead. 

“We were defending for two, three minutes at a time [in the first half] and you know at that moment, it’s tough,” Niego said. “You’ve kind of got to get dirty and grind, but we knew it translated over to the second half. You could see they kind of got worn down.” 

The Lions’ overall size and mobility showed on both ends. The Hilltoppers were limited to four controlled offensive rebounds and six overall.

A new starter this season, the 6-foot-4 DeSimone only adds to that strength.

“I think we dominated the boards. When you’re playing like that, it’s a lot easier to win,” DeSimone said. “Somebody had to step up in the offseason. I worked hard just so I could play in these big games.”

The Lions can’t enjoy their victory for long with another tough test from York (4-5, 1-2) on Dec. 16 in LaGrange.

The Lions won their WSC Silver opener 64-33 over Proviso West on Dec. 7 in LaGrange behind Brady Chambers (12 points), Niego (11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists), Smith (11 points, 6 rebounds), DeSimone (9 points, 5 rebounds), Polonowski (5 points), Liam Taylor (4 points), Reid (3 points, 5 rebounds) and Caleb Greer (3 points).