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- More from Marty Maciaszek
One first was missing on a historic night of them Thursday at St. Viator.
The long-awaited first outright boys basketball conference title was secured as the Lions wrapped up the East Suburban Catholic Conference crown with a 67-40 romp over Joliet Catholic at Cahill Gym in Arlington Heights.
And shortly after the Cahill Crazies rushed the floor to celebrate with the players, public address announcer Jim Bristol informed everyone the Lions had completed their first perfect home season at 13-0.
"It feels great that all the hard work we did in the off-season and back to the spring paid off in every game," said St. Viator senior guard Kevin Walsh after scoring 13 of his game-high 17 points and hitting all 3 of his 3-pointers in a span of 3:42 in the second quarter. "It feels great to get rewarded like this. We played well and played as a team."
That's the missing first as the Lions (22-3, 7-0) cut down the net while the NCAA championship theme song "One Shining Moment" was played.
Me first? There was no sign of it from a group of players who checked their egos at the Cahill doors.
"We've worked hard all year and we really deserve it," said 6-foot-5 senior and third-year starter Chris Myjak, who continued what he called the best two months of basketball he's ever played with 15 points and 5 rebounds.
"It feels amazing," said Viator senior point guard D.J. Morris, who had 7 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocked shots. "I'm just so happy to be on my home floor with my best friends and guys I consider my family right now."
This one didn't have the drama of 15 years ago when Viator had to go to St. Joseph and win the season finale in overtime to claim a share of its only other ESCC title. The point guard then is the point man now in his first year in charge in Mike Howland.
Howland talked about the sacrifices made by a group that finished 14-13 last year. Not just in terms of effort but from individual success.
No one exemplifies it more than Morris, whose scoring has dropped from 14 a game last year to 9 this year. But it isn't indicative in a drop-off in his play as the igniter of an offense averaging 64.5 points and the instigator of a defense allowing just 50 a game.
"I think he's playing the best basketball he's ever played and he's really become a true point guard," Howland said. "He starts it for us. He's got more energy than anybody I've ever coached."
And he's willing to infuse it into everyone else.
"I want the other person to score," Morris said. "I was ready to adjust to whatever was needed and anyone can score 20 points.
"We're so deep. It's like coach said to us after the game, we have four or five guys on any night, and maybe more, who can score 20."
At times on Thursday it was almost as if no one wanted to be the one scoring. Pass after pass led to 11 assists as Viator shot 13-for-25 from the field en route to a 32-11 halftime lead.
Walsh could have gotten closer to 20 early in the second half. Instead, he made a nice transition layup feed to senior Brian Guth, who got the start and extended playing time with sophomore scoring leader Ore Arogundade resting his injured ankle for a more than likely return in the postseason.
Making sure senior Tony Kasper also got in the score book with 4 points was a high priority.
"We know to be the most successful team we can possibly be we have to share the ball," Walsh said. "It's easy to play when everyone buys into that. We have great team chemistry on and off the court and we're all pretty close."
Mayo Arogundade came off the bench to get 4 assists. Senior Dan Forde provided his usual tough defense as Joliet Catholic (5-19, 0-7) went 10:38 without a field goal and the score went from 13-9 to 41-12.
And it's a team that also embraced freshman Mark Falotico playing a key role off the bench.
"We've been together all year and we've played great," Myjak said. "We're playing better together and we're a better team than last year because we have experience."
Now the Lions will try to complete a perfect ESCC finish Wednesday at Notre Dame. Then they'll look to make another postseason run similar to two years ago when they reached the supersectional.
It will be tougher with a step up in class from 3A to 4A for the second-seeded Lions in the Barrington sectional. Looming large is top-seed and last year's runner-up Warren.
But the Lions will take their chances with their team-first concept.
"With how unselfish we're playing right now, and defensively we're playing at a top level, I think we can play against anyone," Morris said. "We'll put up a fight against anyone and we'll play our game no matter what."