Clinton, North Chicago stand tall at Grayslake Central
North Chicago's longest shot came from - surprise - its longest player.
"You got to tip your hat to that," Grayslake Central guard Alec Novak said.
North Chicago 6-foot-8 junior Achan Clinton might be the most imposing low-post player in the Northern Lake County Conference with his shot-blocking and rebounding prowess. But in Tuesday night's showdown at Grayslake Central, his 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer proved equally frustrating to the home team.
Clinton's clutch bucket was North Chicago's only 3-pointer of the game, stretched the Warhawks' lead to eight and swung the momentum. North Chicago won 56-44 to hand Grayslake Central its first conference loss.
While it's a long season, consider North Chicago (7-7, 5-0) the front-runner in the NLCC since it's the only team without a loss in conference play.
Jack Spalding had 12 points and 11 rebounds to pace Grayslake Central, which fell to 8-8 and 5-1.
"Being 'on the wall' for (winning) conference is one of the phrases we live by," said Novak, who had 11 points, including two 3-pointers, and 3 assists. "I think that's still in the picture."
Pierce Coleman's 14 points led North Chicago, which never trailed. Raeshaun Somoa and DyShawn Gales each had 8 points for the Warhawks, who host Grayslake Central on Feb. 9. Clinton finished with just 5 points but grabbed 16 rebounds and posted 5 blocked shots.
Clinton's effort on the glass helped North Chicago outrebound Grayslake Central 32-27. The Warhawks collected 13 boards on the offensive end.
"We played pretty well as a team," said Rams guard Christopher Thomas, who scored 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. "The main thing was they outrebounded us. We've been rebounding really well this year, but all of their offensive rebounds translated into more points."
North Chicago led by as many as eight points in the first half, but Grayslake Central pulled within 32-30 on 3 free throws by Novak with 4:07 left in the third quarter. The Warhawks shifted into high gear after that, getting a putback by Syshonne Lymone to jump-start a 6-0 run. Thomas' 2 free throws cut the Rams' deficit to 39-34 with 8 seconds left in third.
Clinton then buried his 3 after Coleman penetrated and dished to his big man.
"I thought he had 5 points that were just daggers to us," said Grayslake Central coach Kosta Kougias, whose team also surrendered a jumper from the elbow to Clinton in the second quarter after the Rams pulled within 20-17. "He hits that 3 (at the end of the third). No one saw that coming."
North Chicago pulled away in the fourth, leading by double digits for most of the quarter.
"I was impressed with our boys," Kougias said. "I thought we came out and kind of forced our sort of game. It was more of our tempo. We kept the game in the 50s and that's where we wanted to keep it.
"We've got some athletes on the lower levels that we brought up at times in practice to help, but you can't duplicate what North Chicago brings," Kougias added. "It's no offense to our guys. We just don't have the same athleticism that they do. We're not a get-in-your-face, trap-the-ball sort of a team as they are. They definitely make up so much ground on an open guy."