Elgin boys basketball assistant coach and defensive guru Jeff Howard has a standing offer for the Maroons — draw a charge, earn a buck.
Elgin senior Gerardo Mojica made a painful $2 in the fourth quarter of Elgin's 58-44 victory over Huntley at the 15th Annual High School Hoops Showdown at the Sears Centre Saturday.
Mojica drew charges on consecutive possessions to further stymie a Huntley offense that struggled throughout the second half to cope with the overall speed of the smothering Maroons, a team on a mission to avenge last year's season-ending loss to the Red Raiders in a sectional semifinal.
Mojica had previously drawn 2 charges this season.
“Now I have $4,” he said with a wide grin. “I think coach is going to be broke by the end of the season.”
If so, Howard will be the happiest man in bankruptcy court. Anyone who has ever picked up a basketball knows defense wins championships, and Elgin proved once again it has what it takes to suffocate any offense and advance deep into the postseason.
Want more proof beyond the Huntley game? Just read Elgin's resume. The Maroons held St. Charles East to 39 points on Dec. 16. The Saints were averaging 58 ppg at the time.
Then came the ultimate defensive showing against La Lumiere on Dec. 22. Elgin held the national powerhouse with three Division I players in its lineup to 34 points to win its first Elgin Holiday Tournament title since 1999.
The Maroons have limited 10 of their 17 opponents to 41 points or less, largely because their best player is more concerned with playing defense than scoring, though he clearly excels at both.
“It comes from inside,” said senior Kory Brown, who nevertheless tied his career-high with 30 points. “We had to dig, all of us as a whole had to dig. I told myself, ‘I'm not letting my guy score and I'm not letting my teammate's guy score. I'm doing whatever I can to help out wherever I can while keeping an eye where my guy is.'
“I play defense to my fullest. I had the mindset that defense was the key to this game and that's how we won.”
Elgin held Huntley without a field goal for the first 10:08 of the second half. No sequence was more impressive than a 45-second stretch early in the fourth quarter when the Maroons headed off every Huntley incursion toward the lane.
The intense defensive stand began to draw an appreciative ovation from the Elgin faithful, which erupted to a roar when Mojica drew the player control foul against budding Huntley star Amanze Egekeze.
“I thought at first we had four or five really good shots and we didn't knock them down,” Huntley coach Marty Manning said of the second half. “Then we started to press a little bit, and I thought their defense was really good. I thought they did a great job of stepping over and taking charges and getting us to turn the basketball over.
“By the end of the third quarter I thought they started to pick up their defensive intensity.”
Manning knows good defense when he sees it. Since he arrived at Huntley in 2006 with a Mid-Suburban League style predicated on defense first, Manning's teams have become known for their brand of disciplined, physical, well-positioned defense.
But Elgin beat the Red Raiders at their own game Saturday by playing such tremendous defense in the second half. Basically, the Maroons out-Huntley-ed Huntley.
“It was pretty tough,” Huntley senior Troy Miller said. “We didn't play up to our expectations of the game. They controlled it and they pretty much told us what to do.”
Saturday's result doesn't change last year's final score, nor does it mean Elgin would beat Huntley if the teams happen to meet again at the Class 4A Dundee-Crown sectional. But for an Elgin team that had to wait 10 months to gain a measure of revenge, the result was not only satisfying but confidence boosting.
“If we face this team again knowing how we played the second half — if we come out playing like that when we play them in the sectionals or wherever we face them — we'll be ready,” Brown said.
Jeff Howard will probably have an empty wallet by then.
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