High School Lites preview

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High School Lites preview

Chicagoland prep basketball is home on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Conference play resumes and a few teams will be looking to capitalize off the momentum from holiday tournaments. Will St. Ignatius continue their surprising run? Will a school record be broken at North Chicago on Friday? Who will be the next hero in the legendary New Trier-Evanston rivalry? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will cover on this Fridays edition of High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:
Thursday's games

No. 8 Elgin (12-1) @ Batavia (4-7), 7:15 pm

The Maroons continue to build off last years 22-7 squad. The last time they made a supersectional was in 2008 and they have the talent to get there again. Senior Kory Brown is their leader and hes helped by junior guard Arie Williams. But Elgin first needs to take care of business in the Upstate Eight conference, and it starts with a Batavia team that reached the semifinals of the Elgin Holiday Tournament. Senior center Cole Gardner will get a lot of work in the paint for the Bulldogs.

Marmion (8-6) @ Aurora Christian (10-3), 7:30 pm

This Suburban Christian Blue showdown features an Aurora Christian team that some thought would have a down year in 11-12. That's not the case, as the Eagles have had an impressive campaign. They won three of four at the Plano Christmas Classic. C.J. Schutt is one of the go-to guys for A-C. Marmion has benefitted of late from the play of junior guard Alex Theisen. The teams will face each other again at Marmion Feb. 10.

Friday's games

No. 6 Andrew (9-0) @ Lincoln-Way North (5-11), 6:30 pm

The Thunderbolts might be in uncharted waters but they havent been fazed by the recent success. They rolled through the Kankakee tournament, with junior forward Jubril Adekoya picking up MVP honors. Andrew is in a brutal stretch: six of the next seven games are on the road. And pardon the pun, but the Lincoln-Way North Phoenix are on the rise. Daryle Morgan led his team to three wins in four games at Lincoln-Way Easts Medieval Classic over the holidays.

No. 7 Plainfield East (11-0) @ Plainfield North (3-11), 7:00 pm

The Bengals are turning into quite a story. The school has only been in existence for 3 years and they already have a top 10 program with a nice holiday trophy (Pekin Holiday Tournament) in the hallway case. Austin Robinson, Jawan Straughter and Brian Bennett will now look to guide East through Southwestern Prairie conference play. Plainfield North competed in the Pontiac tournament over holiday break. They battled in their last game, a 69-63 loss to Waukegan.

Joliet West (8-4) @ Joliet Central (6-6), 7:00 pm

The battle for Joliet is also a jostle for position in the competitive Southwest Suburban Blue conference. West picked up a win at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and has also played well against the likes of Homewood-Flossmoor and West Aurora. Senior center Marlon Johnson figures is tough to contain on both sides of the floor. Central went 1-3 in the McDipper Tournament at Rich South. Junior guard Jalen Heath leads the Steelmen.

Evanston (11-3) @ No. 15 New Trier (12-2), 7:30 pm

One of the best rivalries in the state features a sneaky-tough Evanston team that quietly took the consolation crown at a very competitive McDipper Tournament. Leonard Garron, Josh Irving and Jordan Perrin lead the Wildkits. New Trier was equally impressive at the Proviso West tournament, taking home second place honors. David Bragiel, Austin Angel, Connor Boehm and Jordan Thomas figure to get a lot of looks on the Trevians offense. The girls teams will square off at 6 pm. New Trier features Northwestern-bound guard Maggie Lyon. Evanston has picked it up of late, winning three of their last five.

No. 9 St. Ignatius (11-1) @ St. Rita (6-5), 7:30 pm

It seems like every game in the Catholic North has Game of the Night potential and this clash is no different. St. Ignatius, CSNs Muscle Milk Team of the Week, is on a serious roll. They tamed the competition at the Jack Tosh Holiday tournament, earning victories over Downers Grove South and De La Salle in the process. St. Ritas record is deceiving. They have only lost one game to an Illinois foe. The guards (Ritas Tony Hicks and Ignatius Brian Howard) drive both offenses.

Wauconda (7-7) @ North Chicago (9-2), 7:30 pm

It could be a memorable night for Illinois State recruit Aaron Simpson and the North Chicago Warhawks. The talented guard needs 12 points to become the schools all-time leading scorer. Simpson, who contributes mightily to the Warhawks 78.8 points per game average, scored 133 points over four games at the State Farm Holiday Classic. He was named to the all-tournament team. The Bulldogs, winners of three of their last four, need to step up on defense to have a chance here. Matt Mead and Kyle Ryan are their threats on offense.

Mundelein (14-3) @ Libertyville (10-3), 7:30 pm

The Mustangs gaudy win total ranks currently ranks near the top of all Illinois teams. A marquee win on the road in the rugged North Suburban Lake could help them bust into the top 20. Their last win was a 110-79 triumph over Buhach Colony (Calif.). Robert Knar and Sean OBrien are two of the featured stars. Libertyville figures to be a good test. They took third place at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. Ellis Matthews and Griffin Pils are leaders on the Wildcats roster.

Every Friday night at 10:30, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from the Chicagoland basketball courts. This week's episode will air just after Blackhawks hockey and SportsNet Central. We'll also have in-depth feature stories and take a look back down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment. This week, be sure to check out CSN's Muscle Milk Team of the Week, St. Ignatius. After a strong campaign last season, the Wolfpack were considered also-rans this season. How did this Chicago school get back on top? Also, we'll have the latest on the Simeon Wolverines in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than.

High School Lites streams live every Friday on csnchicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

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USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”