By Marty Farmer
Experience never hurts come playoff time. And the Lyons Township High School boys basketball team not only has experience but in arguably the most important part of the lineup: the backcourt.
Despite several injuries during the regular season, the Lions finished 21-9 overall and 7-5 in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division to place third with senior guards Tyrese Shines, Josh Berry and Nolan Niego leading the way.
LTHS also won its own Thanksgiving tourney, advanced to the semifinals of the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York and defeated highly regarded teams like Riverside-Brookfield and Oak Park and River Forest.
"It's been a really fun year so far," LTHS coach Tom Sloan said. "Tyrese and Josh each missed a number of games although never at the same time. The team played well when they were missing from the lineup. Since they have both returned, the team has been playing very well.
"This team is very unified and they are extremely unselfish," Sloan added. "The seniors have led by example and set expectations very high for all members of the team. We have a number of players who can handle the ball, pass and score. And the group is very committed on the defensive end."
The Lions are very balanced offensively with the Nolan Niego (14 points per game), Berry (12.4), Shines (12.3) and junior Grant Niego (11.7) all averaging double figures in scoring). Junior guard Michael Niedermeyer and 6-foot-4 senior forwards Nate Vedok and Matt Sloyan have been key contributors as well for the Lions.
Based on their work during the regular season, LTHS landed as the fourth seed in the Bartlett Sectional of the Class 4A state playoffs. Geneva, Benet Academy and Downers Grove are the top three seeds in order. Conference opponents Downers Grove North (No. 5 seed) and Glenbard West (No. 6 seed) are other solid squads near the top of the 21-team sectional.
Sloan and the Lions are focused on just getting through a tough regional draw.
"Our regional will be very tough," he said. "There are several very strong teams in our regional. The sectional is very deep and balanced as well. Any of the top 12 teams could probably win it."
In a regional semifinal at Glenbard West on Feb. 26, LTHS passed its first test in the postseason via a 58-44 win over Hinsdale South, which defeated Bartlett 73-65 in the quarterfinals. Shines led LTHS with 19 points, while Berry (18) and Grant Niego (12) also scored well against the Hornets.
The Lions advance to the championship game of the regional against host Glenbard West on Friday, March 1 at 7 p.m. The Hilltoppers edged Naperville North 77-71 in overtime to set up their meeting with LTHS.
The Lions and Hilltoppers split their games during the regular season, with each team winning on the road.
While Glenbard West likely will benefit playing at home in the rubber match, the Lions' formula for success remains the same regardless of venue.
"We will need to take care of the ball, get quality shots, shoot with confidence, prevent easy baskets, and rebound," Sloan said. "If we do those things, we will give ourselves a chance to win."