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Maine South edges Loyola in a battle of the area’s premier defenses

There weren’t fans in attendance in Wilmette on Friday for Maine South vs. Loyola, but if there had been, they would have known what to expect.

Maine South’s Sean Gallery (12) takes the ball to the basket over Loyola’s Perrion McClinton (1) and Vaughn Pemberton (25).
Maine South’s Sean Gallery (12) takes the ball to the basket over Loyola’s Perrion McClinton (1) and Vaughn Pemberton (25).
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

There weren’t fans in attendance in Wilmette on Friday for Maine South vs. Loyola, but if there had been, they would have known what to expect.

Both programs are built on defense. Hawks coach Tony Lavorato summed it up well after his team pulled out a 47-36 victory: “If you have to play half court basketball against them and they have to play half court against us, no one is going to score.”

That was the case at the end of the first half. There wasn’t a field goal by either team for 4:14. But Maine South (1-0) came alive in the third quarter.

Senior Milan Adamovic made a three. Then Nikola Zelenovic made one. All of a sudden, the Hawks ripped off a 16-4 run to take control of the game.

“We were able to get some transition buckets,” Lavorato said. “We were able to break down and beat them on recovery a little bit and then we had three or four different guys hit threes. We had a nice run.”

How ingrained is the defensive mentality at Maine South?

After the game both Zelenovic and senior Sean Gallery stressed that the Hawks’ defense in the first half wasn’t good enough. That was after holding the Ramblers (0-1) without a field goal for most of the second quarter.

“We emphasized the defense at halftime,” Zelenovic said. “In the first half they were picking us apart and we weren’t communicating. That changed the whole game.”

Gallery led Maine South with 17 points and Zelenovic added 10.

Loyola coach Tom Livatino’s focus after the game, rightfully, was on the fact that his team had actually just played a high school basketball game.

“I will never feel better [after] a loss than I am right now,” Livatino said. “I feel great. We got to play and all of our seniors played. Yeah, you want to win the game. Obviously, no one’s more competitive than I am or we are but that’s not what this is about right now.”

The Ramblers have a totally new starting lineup. Senior Jalen Axibal led the way with 10 points. Scotty Dean scored nine and senior Perrion McClinton added four points and 12 rebounds.

“As a basketball team, we’re inexperienced,” Livatino said. “That showed, but we’ll get better. We have great kids. And the other beautiful thing is that they’re really disappointed. They’re really down. Because they’re competitors and they’re playing high school basketball. And when you lose that should hurt. But I just am so grateful that this is happening.”


Watch the final minute of Maine South at Loyola: