After an impressive start, the Lyons Township High School boys basketball team enters 2023 temporarily reloading. 

Another great run at York’s Jack Tosh Tournament ended Dec. 30 with a loss in the championship game for the second straight year, this time 56-42 to Rolling Meadows.

It was the first loss this season for LTHS (11-1), which dominated its first four tournament games by at least 19 points while holding three opponents to 35 points or fewer. They beat fourth-place St. Ignatius 66-47 on Dec. 29, Palatine 59-34 on Dec. 28, Timothy Christian 69-35 on Dec. 27 and Batavia 61-34 on Dec. 26.

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

“There were a lot of times where we played really good, and in this [Rolling Meadows] game there was a lot we can improve on,” said LTHS senior Nik Polonowski. 

“This game has helped us more than the past four games. It’s the loss that really resonates with us, kind of opens our eyes that we can lose.”

Polonowski, who will play at Penn, and seniors Jackson Niego and Yale football recruit Graham Smith were named to the 20-player all-tournament team. Polonowski also was all-tournament in 2021. 

The Lions trailed Rolling Meadows (16-1) from the outset. In the first half, they made just 8 of 21 shots and their transition offense was thwarted, but their tough trademark defense kept them within range at 29-20. 

Then they only mustered five Polonowski points in the third quarter to fall behind 42-25 and were down 20 before scoring the final six points to finish 18 of 52 shooting, including 1 for 16 from 3-point range with Polonowski connecting with 4:58 left.

“Rolling Meadows is really good and they played they played really well. If you’re going to play them on a night they play well, you have to play well to hang in there,” LTHS coach Tom Sloan said.

Polonowski (16 points), reserve Carter Reid (12 points, 8 rebounds), Smith (4 points, 6 rebounds), Niego (4 points, 5 rebounds) and Liam Taylor (4 points) led LTHS.

Rolling Meadows again was powered by 6-foot-6 senior Cameron Christie (26 points with 4 threes, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals). The Minnesota recruit and tournament MVP averaged a tournament-best 26.4 points and overcame tough defense primarily from the Lions’ Connor Carroll and Matt DeSimone. 

Mark Nikolich-Wilson (11 points on 5-for-7 shooting), the Mustangs’ 6-7 senior center, completed a tournament-record .771 overall field-goal percentage (.800 on two-pointers). All five starters made at least one three.

In similar fashion, the Lions previously had multiple offensive contributors to supplement leading scorers Polonowski and Niego. 

Smith had team bests of 16 points and 11 rebounds as LTHS displayed physical might against equally-sized Palatine (10-4). While Polonowski had 19 points with four threes against St. Ignatius (13-3), Carroll had 18 with three fours and 7-for-9 shooting.

The Lions responded to Palatine closing to 24-22 on the opening possession of the third quarter. In their best victory, the Lions outscored St. Ignatius 19-9 in the third quarter for a 52-36 cushion.

“I think every win in this tournament was well earned,” Niego said. “That St. Ignatius game, it felt like we put it all together. We would have liked to have that [against Rolling Meadows], but we couldn’t get (shots) down and we’ve got to move on.” 

In 2021, the Lions lost the Tosh final 60-28 to IHSA Class 4A state champion Glenbard West, one of the greatest teams in state history.

“[Rolling Meadows] was a disappointing game. They were hitting shots and normally we’d come right back and they just didn’t fall for us,” Smith said. 

“[Last year] we had just lost to Glenbard West. [Against Rolling Meadows] we had a good game plan and everyone was confident. But I think it just hurts a little bit more. If we play that team again, it’s a totally different game.”