After cruising through their first three games, sixth ranked Niles North faced their toughest challenge of the young season, playing 18th ranked DePaul Prep in the finals of the Battle of the Bridge tournament.
Led by Damaria Franklin (20 points, 10 rebounds) and sophomore Aquan Smart (10 points), the Vikings improved their record to 4-0 with their 54-48 win.
Like each of their previous three games, Niles North got out to a quick start. The Vikings were patient with the basketball and broke down the DePaul zone with relative ease, jumping out to an 18-11 first quarter lead.
DePaul would eventually settle into the game by driving to the basket and getting to the free throw line. This combined with extremely physical defensive play cause the Vikings to go cold from the field.
“Once again I was really pleased with the start,” said Niles North coach Glenn Olson. “In that second quarter I think we played at their pace and we just went cold and we responded to that with poor shot selection, instead of getting the shots we needed to get.”
A 6-0 run orchestrated by Perry Cowan, who scored eight of his 21 points in the second quarter cut into the Vikings lead, and Niles North would go into the halftime break up 26-24.
DePaul carried the momentum gained from the second quarter, into the second half. Niles North continued to miss layups and DePaul would take their first lead of the game at 27-26, but the Vikings showed resilience to regain their lead straight away.
Olson said: “In the third quarter we got down a little bit and responded right away and I felt great about that. We got down a couple of times and responded like a mature team.”
The teams would go back and forth throughout the final frame. DePaul took a 3 point lead after a three from Lance Mosely, but Niles North sophomore Aquan Smart scored five straight points propelling the Vikings to a 48-46 lead with four minutes left.
Smart said: “Being on the team last year they taught me a lot about composure and growing up and through that I know what my role is and how to step up.”
“You know he was with us last year, and people were saying why are you bringing the kid up?” added Olson. “This is why you bring a kid up, because he’s around and gets to go against the Dravon’s and the Juice’s and the Damaria’s every day at practice and he competes and gets better.”
With the game still in the balance, Niles North stepped up on the defensive end and did not allow DePaul to score a field goal for the last four minutes of the contest.
Raheem Anthony had a great chance to tie the game with a three, but his step-back jumper came up just short and Niles North would close out the game from the foul line, to complete the 54-48 win.
Perhaps most impressively, is that Niles North showed that they are so much more than just a run and gun team. With DePaul content with sitting in their zone, the Vikings had to remain patient, which they did, holding the ball for minutes at a time.
Niles North’s next game will be a huge rivalry matchup next Thursday against district foe Niles West, which despite the seemingly wide talent differential, has always a tough matchup for the Vikings.
“We have to get back to work. Our focus of our preseason had nothing to do with winning a Thanksgiving tournament,” concluded Olson. “It’s all about culminating and getting better for the end of the season. We’re going to keep this in perspective and we’ll get back to work.”