Lyons Township High School senior guard Jackson Niego recently found his next basketball home when he verbally committed to NCAA Division III Illinois Wesleyan University.

With the game on the line on Jan. 6, the Lions found Niego open for his patented jumper to the right of the lane.

Jackson Niego

Niego’s basket with 33.7 seconds left lifted the Lions to a hard-fought 39-38 victory over Downers Grove North in the battle of the undefeated West Suburban Conference Silver co-leaders. LTHS trailed 29-18 midway through the third quarter.

“I wasn’t hitting shots the whole first half, even in the third quarter, but coming off the ball screen, I was able to knock it down,” said Niego, who scored his four points in the fourth quarter. “I feel like that’s a shot I hit all of the time.”

Nik Polonowski had 14 points with three 3-pointers and six rebounds. Connor Carroll had eight points and Matthew DeSimone (4 points) and Graham Smith (3 points) grabbed seven and six rebounds, respectively.

The Lions (13-1, 4-0) already have 10 victories by 20 points or more, but they struggled offensively for the second straight game against determined man-to-man defense by the Trojans (13-3, 2-2). 

Nik Polonowski

The Lions’ alternating between man and a 1-2-2 zone defense helped to spark a 10-1 run to put them ahead 32-30 with 6:15 left and again after Downers North got back-to-back Maxwell Haack threes to lead 36-32.

Polonowski scored five of his six fourth-quarter points, a three and two free throws, following a Downers North dunk, to cut the deficit to 39-38.

“We knew this was going to be a tough game to win. Whoever won this game was going to have to earn it,” LTHS coach Tom Sloan said. “It was a battle. The ball didn’t go in the basket at a high rate but the effort was at a high level on both sides.

“They played really tough defense on [Niego] all game and he finally shook himself loose and knocked down a really tough contested 15-footer. That was a big-time shot.”

Usually one of the team’s leading scorers, Niego only took three shots before the fourth quarter. He first scored on a drive to put the Lions ahead 31-30. Smith followed with a free throw.

“That’s one thing to miss shots. It’s another thing to not take shots,” Niego said. “They’re a great defensive team. They’re big, strong, physical. But there’s going to be other games like that, and we have to be more prepared coming into them.”

This was the Trojans’ first loss since their opener 53-47 to Lake Park in November. The Trojans then were edged by Hinsdale Central 48-46 on Jan. 7.

In winning on Jan. 6, LTHS bounced back from its lone loss to Rolling Meadows 56-42 for the title of York’s Jack Tosh Tournament on Dec. 30.

“This one definitely feels a little better,” Polonowski said. “That Jack Tosh Tournament was awesome but conference play is another level. Every single one is high-level play so it’s great.”  

On Jan. 7, Polonowski had 25 points and two blocks as the Lions defeated Perspectives 73-29 at the Hyde Park Classic. Niego (9 points), Liam Taylor (8 points), Carroll (6 points), Caleb Greer and Michael Reilly (5 points each) also were key contributors.