Just like athletes in other sports, when basketball players fall off the figurative horse, they want to climb back on as quickly as possible.
But because of the way the schedule broke, that wasn’t possible for Carmel. After starting out the season 6-0, there were back-to-back losses — a surprising one to Elgin and a not-surprising one to St. Viator. They were followed by a lot of “no game today” lines on the schedule.
After playing eight times in 13 days, the Corsairs went eight days until opening up in the Jacobs holiday tournament in Algonquin against Cary-Grove last Saturday.
But clearly, the layoff hasn’t hurt Tim Bowen’s squad in the least. On
Thursday, the Corsairs dumped Rockford Jefferson 56-47 and won their four-team pool in the 16-team tournament with a 3-0 record. Next up will be Friday night’s semifinal contest against an opponent that was to be determined late on Thursday.
But regardless of who’s on the court opposite Carmel on Friday, that team will have to be at its very best to win.
“We’re always working to get better,” said Carmel coach Tim Bowen of his 9-2 team. “We want to do that every game and every practice. You always want to win the tournament. When we sat down and talked about our goals over the course of the year, one of the goals we had was to finish out well in this tournament. We felt we could get to the final four.
“Of course, you have to take it each day and see what happens. I don’t want to jinx us.”
Any “jinxing” on Thursday disappeared after a shaky first quarter that ended with Rockford Jefferson (6-5 overall) up 15-8. Carmel was ahead 22-20 at the half, and 41-33 after three quarters.
Jefferson closed to within 42-40, but Carmel got six straights points — two free throws by sophomore C.J. Duff, two free throws by big Jack George, and a putback by George, while Jefferson missed a three-pointer and committed a turnover — to regain control for good.
Duff, who would be at Waukegan if he was attending a public high school, was the team’s MVP with 19 points and five rebounds.
Jefferson was able to contain Carmel’s big early, but the 6-10 George finally got going and finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
Michael Barr, a 6-6 forward, added eight points and five boards.
Jefferson got 13 points from junior guard M.L. Moore and nine points from both Montel Brown and sophomore guard Kaveon Rogers.
Carmel hit 20-of-36 shots from the field, including 3-of-6 from distance while Jefferson was 19-of-49, and 9-of-25 from distance.
Duff started with four seniors — George, Barr, Nickai Poyers and Billy Kirby — and the youngster looks like he’s been playing with the veterans for years.
“It feels a little unreal to me,” Duff said. “Last year, I got to play with them, but not to the extent I have this year. Having the opportunity to go out there and showcase my talent with them is a great thing. I’m proud of myself, but I’m also not taking it for granted. I’m just happy to be able to help my team win.
“They’ve shown me that brotherly love, and how to just keep fighting.”
And that fighting spirit includes bouncing back from the back-to-back losses earlier this month.
“It feels good to come back and play well after a couple of losses,” said Poyser. “We’re a team that can bounce back from anything. We’ve dealt with adversity going back to last year. We know how to handle it.
“We’ve done a good job moving the ball around and kicking it out. If we play our game, we’re going to be fine.”
The team’s best player — the 6-10 George — has already been part of a Thanksgiving Week tourney title at Crystal Lake Central. Now, he wants another crown for his team and his school.
“We sat down at the beginning of the year and looked at the entire schedule, including this tournament.” he said. “We saw who was in our pool, and who was on what side of the bracket. Coming in, we really did think we had a good chance of getting to the championship and playing Zion-Benton or Elgin Larkin.”