Defensive gains show as Grayslake N. tops Antioch

It has become a common occurrence for Grayslake North senior forward James Connolly.

Close score. Closing seconds of the game. Basketball in his trusty hands.

Tuesday night, with one second on the clock in a one-point contest, Connolly delivered a shot again.

This time, the clutch shooter missed. Twice.

No worries, however. Antioch’s Branden Gallimore rebounded the second of Connolly’s 2 missed free throws, but his heave fell well short, and host Grayslake North escaped with a 50-49 win in Northern Lake County Conference action.

"I’m glad I missed the second one," said Connolly, who hit buzzer-beating shots to beat Richmond-Burton and Grayslake Central in the Knights’ two previous games. "If (Antioch) would have (inbounded) the ball and somehow made a miraculous, one-handed bomb, we would have lost. I’m glad they didn’t have time to set up a play."

Grayslake North won because Connolly delivered clutch buckets again. He finished with game bests of 18 points and 16 rebounds, as the Knights (7-11, 3-3) rallied from five points down in the fourth quarter.

Ryan Connolly (15 points) sank 4 of 4 free throws in the final 65 seconds, and Jon Smithson (11 points) drained 3 of 4 down the stretch, giving Grayslake North its first three-game winning streak of the season.

"Since the Carmel game, we’ve decided defense is kind of cool," said coach Todd Grunloh, whose Knights are 4-3 since a 53-47 loss to Carmel on Jan. 3. "The first two months (playing defense) was a joke. We played none."

Gallimore finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds for Antioch (8-10, 2-5). Dan Filippone scored 11 points for the Sequoits, as did Austin Andrews, whose 3-pointer with seven seconds left got the visitors within 50-49.

"We always have a close game against Antioch," James Connolly said. "Ever since I’ve been here, it’s been like that. For their size, they’re a (physically) strong team."

James Connolly had 15 points and 10 rebounds in helping Grayslake North take a 28-21 lead into halftime. But after he fed Smithson for a layup with five minutes left in the third quarter, the Knights went nearly eight minutes without scoring a point. They went from being up 33-27 to being down 38-33.

Antioch had closed the third with a 7-0 run to grab a 34-33 advantage.

Connolly took only 2 shots in the second half, making one. Part of the problem offensively for Grayslake North was its inability to protect the ball, as the Knights committed 9 of their 19 turnovers after halftime.

"They clogged the middle," Grunloh said of the Sequoits. "Not that we threw great passes — we were a little sloppy — but (Antioch) is physical. We usually beat tons of guys back door, and they just took James and Ryan way back door."

Down 38-33 after Gallimore hit a runner with 4:44 left in the fourth, Grayslake North finally ended its offensive drought when James Connolly fed his brother for a layup. That started an 8-0 that also included James Connolly scoring in the post, Jamon Thomas feeding a bounce back to Smithson for a layup, and Jason Donohue scoring on what was ruled goaltending.

Up 41-38 with 2:44 remaining, the Knights never relinquished the lead after that.

"We scored six points on three possessions just because of our defense," Grunloh said.

"It’s an ugly win," James Connolly said. "But we got the win."

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