Friday, March 1, 2024

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Bulldogs Basketball under pressure to defend national title – other local scores

By Mike Clark

How good is defending NJCAA Division II men’s basketball national champ South Suburban? Almost two months into the season, coach John Pigatti isn’t sure. But he was expecting to learn more as 2022 winds down.

The Bulldogs came out of the holiday break at 12-1 and ranked third nationally heading into a two-game road trip to Michigan. They fell 94-75 Thursday to Henry Ford, tied for 11th nationally in Division II, and play at Division II No. 9 Macomb on Friday.

Once again, SSC is leaning on a big three: sophomore guards Nakyel Shelton and Jalen Houston, along with sophomore forward Damontae Taylor. Taylor was also part of last year’s big three with since-departed Damarco Minor and Camron Donatlan. They led the Bulldogs to a 33-0 record and the national title.

“It’s not like last year’s big three,” Pigatti said. “Taylor’s numbers are down from last year, and Shelton does what Shelton does and Houston’s solid. But we really don’t have much after those guys.

“We’re just trying to find more pieces to the puzzle. We should find out more (this week).”

Heading into the Michigan trip, Shelton was averaging a double-double of 22.9 points and 11.8 rebounds a game, along with 3.2 assists and 2.3 steals.

“He’s a very athletic (shooting) guard — shoots it, rebounds it,” Pigatti said of Shelton, who had previous college stops at NAIA members Montana State Northern (during the COVID season) and Cardinal Stritch (Wis.).

“He transferred here to try to move up his stock,” Pigatti said.

Taylor was next at 17.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 3.5 steals, and 2.2 blocks per game. Houston contributes 13.5 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.6 steals per game. Finding more offense is a current focus.

“We’re trying to get some more firepower,” Pigatti said. “Defensively we were playing really well early on and we need to get back to playing that way.”

High schools

TF South

Boys basketball

The Red Wolves won two of their first three games at Rich’s Big Dipper Tournament, losing 75-62 Tuesday to Perspectives-Leadership before beating Thornton 68-32 Wednesday in a consolation quarterfinal and knocking off Bremen 71-55 Thursday in a consolation semifinal. They play Bishop Noll on Friday for the consolation title.

South jumped ahead of Bremen 11-0 and Caleb Newman scored a game-high 20 points. Also reaching double figures for the Red Wolves (6-6) were Romello Ali with 17 points, Sam Townsend with 12 and Marqell Wilson with 10.

TF South opened a 17-0 lead against Thornton and coasted home behind a quartet of double-figure scorers. Ali led the way with 15 points,Wilson had 14, Alex Lesure scored 12 and Newman finished with 11.

In Tuesday’s game, Wilson scored a game-high 21 points.

Girls basketball

South (16-4) had its nine-game winning streak snapped with a 72-21 loss to Marian Catholic in Wednesday’s semifinals at the Hillcrest Holiday Classic but bounced back to beat Phillips 53-42 on Thursday to finish third. Rayvan Rush was named to the all-tournament team..

The Red Wolves beat Bloom 56-28 and Stagg 56-32 on Tuesday.

TF North

Boys basketball

The Meteors’ season-opening eight-game winning streak was snapped Tuesday with a 74-60 quarterfinal loss to Proviso East. Jevon Warren paced North (8-1) with a double-double of 27 points and 11 rebounds.

North opened the tourney with a 65-40 win over Clark on Monday. Chase Abraham led the way with 20 points off the bench, Jayden Small scored 15 and Warren had 11 points.

Marian Catholic

Boys basketball

The Spartans won their first two games at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, 51-39 over Maine South on Monday and 54-49 over Rockford Auburn on Tuesday. Marian opened a 10-2 lead against Maine South and was in control throughout.

Quentin Jones had 14 points, including a highlight-reel slam, to lead the Spartans. Tre Davis scored 12 and James Bullock added 11.

Marian (9-4) fell behind Auburn by seven after one quarter but pulled ahead by five at halftime and led the rest of the way.

Jones had 20 points and eight rebounds, Donovan Juzang added 17 points and three assists, and Davis scored 10.

Girls basketball

The Spartans (14-3) extended their winning streak to seven games by going 4-0 en route to the title at the Hillcrest Holiday Classic.

Marian beat Thornton 59-19 and Orr 62-25 on Tuesday, rolled past TF South 72-21 Wednesday and knocked off Butler 58-51 on Thursday.

Tourney MVP Madison Davis scored 22 points to pace Marian (12-3) against Thornton, and had 19 more against Orr. LaParis Poe (11 points) and Ty Jackson (10) also reached double figures against Orr.

Davis led three double-figure scorers against TF South with 25 points, while Poe and Jackson each added 14. Davis scored 27 more points in the title game.


Mike Clark
Mike Clark
Mike Clark is a veteran journalist who has been covering sports in the Chicago area and beyond, from preps to pros, for more than four decades.