Round Lake earns high-fives

With his Round Lake boys basketball team up 5-0 and seeking its fifth win in a row, coach Jay Iden wasn't high-fiving his starters when he yanked all five from the game.

Welcome to Panthers basketball, 2019-20. Expectations have changed. Few Round Lake teams in recent years have ever had a 5-0 lead, let alone a five-game winning streak.

"I'm so close with these guys, I can just tell," Iden said of his decision to substitute in five reserves with still 6:13 left in the opening quarter against nonconference-guest Christian Liberty Academy on Wednesday night. "It's funny. We always talk about this sixth sense that I have. I can tell by their faces, the way they're carrying themselves. We've been worried about dealing with this success. There is no playbook for this."

The Panthers just keep playing, and winning. Deveauntay McNeal posted game bests of 22 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals, and Round Lake beat the Chargers 70-27 to improve to 7-2 heading into its Marengo tournament opener against Freeport on Saturday.

"We're feeling good," McNeal said. "Seven wins, early. (Coach) tells us every day to just go and win, just play."

Christian Liberty Academy fell to 3-6 with its second road loss in as many nights (Mooseheart).

Once Round Lake starters McNeal, Hakim Williams, Elyija Jones, Nick Pierre and Isaiah Nixon went to the bench, it was time for the reserves to play. In came Jony Rodriguez, Jamirh Jones, Philip Robinson, Daniel Terry and Kendrick Grant. Then it was Kevonne Peterson, Marquan Washingto and Elyijah Winslow who sprang off the Round Lake bench.

By the time Iden put his five starters back in, there was 5:38 left in the first half, and the Panthers had extended their lead to 21-9.

"Our bench has been great lately," Iden said. "We're really looking to find guys deep in the bench. We want to go as deep as possible. Clearly, we emphasize defense, big-time. Those guys have been busting their behinds in practice every day. They're enthusiastic, they're a fun group to be around, they love cheering on the bench, and they deserve to go in if the other guys are letting them down."

Peterson scored 6 of his 9 points in the first half. Jamirh Jones had a basket and 5 rebounds. Winslow, Grant, Terry and Washington (3-pointer) scored as well in helping the home team go into halftime up 31-12.

"That's the bench for you," McNeal said. "When they get in, they play. And then when we get in, they just go crazy for us."

Round Lake's starters made amends in third quarter. McNeal scored 14 points, Williams dropped in 12 of his 14, and the Panthers outscored CLA 31-8. Thanks to a 23-0 run, they lengthened their lead to 62-20 entering the fourth.

Christian Liberty was led in scoring by freshman guard Tanner Aiello, who had 8 points off the bench. Dylan Veigel had 7 points and 6 rebounds. The Chargers shot 0 of 16 from the floor in getting outscored 14-3 in the second quarter.

"We got to finish," CLA coach Jed Bennett said. "We had a lot of opportunities in the first half, missed a lot of layups, a lot of free throws. You can't afford to not finish against good teams."

A dozen players scored Round Lake, which was minus 6-foot-5 Jeremiah Jordan (ankle).

"(The starters) aren't too happy with me right now, but it's about responsibility and leadership," said Iden, whose team is 2-0 in the Northern Lake County Conference, after losing its first 42 NLCC games. "Every day we talk about raising the standard."

  Round Lake's Deveauntay McNeal, right, draws contact from Christian Liberty Academy's Rob Litzenberger on a drive to the basket during Wednesday's game in Round Lake. Joe Lewnard/
  Christian Liberty Academy's Titus Bennett, front and Round Lake's Jamirh Jones collide during Wednesday's game in Round Lake. Joe Lewnard/
  Round Lake's Deveauntay McNeal drives to the basket as Christian Liberty Academy's Dylan Veigel defends during Wednesday's game in Round Lake. Joe Lewnard/
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