Boys basketball: Owen Thulin, Downers Grove North turn away upset-minded Downers Grove South

Senior guard has nine points, two assists and momentum-turning steal in 41-37 Trojans’ win

Downers Grove North's Owen Thulin (5) shoots a jump shot during basketball game between Downers Grove South at Downers Grove North. Dec 16, 2023.

DOWNERS GROVE – A list of Downers Grove North senior point guard Owen Thulin’s athletic accomplishments could fill a book while a description of his traits can drain the vocabularies of some people.

What is it that makes Thulin stand out? Downers North coach Jim Thomas answered that question with a question of his own.

“I guess it’s – what doesn’t he do?” Thomas said. “He took a basketball team to the final four last year, took a football team to the final game this year and he plays his heart out.

“He is so competitive and so wired to just get after it. He’s going to make plays for you at some point in time, so I’m really proud of him.”

Senior forward and fellow co-captain Jake Riemer sums up Thulin this way:

“He’s just a fighter,” Riemer said. “He’s got that dog in him.

“He handles pressure, he handles the ball, he does everything well. He’s the most underrated player in my opinion.”

The underrated Thulin helped the host Trojans crush the upset hopes of underrated Downers Grove South on Dec. 16. Thulin had nine points, two assists and one momentum-turning steal as Downers North won the annual crosstown battle 41-37.

Downers Grove North's Jake Riemer (1) grabs a rebound during basketball game between Downers Grove South at Downers Grove North. Dec 16, 2023.

The game was a slugfest from start to finish with both teams erasing seven-point deficits.

Thulin, who will play football but not basketball in college, said none of what occurred was unexpected.

“(Thomas) asked us before the game if we felt any pressure and we all said yes,” Thulin said. “And he said no. Then he listed all the events and all the pressure-filled situations that we’ve been in and said this (is) nothing compared to situations we’ve been in.”

But it had been a while since the visiting Mustangs (8-2) had been in a situation to put pressure on the Trojans. This was a much more typical battle.

“I don’t think we’ve been able to match their style of play the last two years until today,” Downers South coach Zach Miller said. “If you’re going to take down a juggernaut and a well-coached team, we have a lot to prove and we showed the type of fight that we’re capable of.

“(Thomas) does such a great job getting his kids to play. They do everything right. I felt like our guys matched that tonight.”

The Mustangs did, starting with their opening 7-0 run that prompted Thomas to call a timeout. The Trojans (8-1) did not score for the first five minutes.

Alex Miller then tallied five straight points to trigger a 9-0 run and the battle was on.

How does Thulin handle the pressure?

“The biggest thing is just to take a deep breath and play the next play,” Thulin said. “Just play hard, to be honest.”

The Trojans needed to because guards Jalen House and Keon Maggitt helped the Mustangs regain their seven-point lead in the second quarter. Maggitt, who led all scorers with 12 points, split a pair of free throws to give Downers South a 21-14 cushion with 3:46 left in the first half.

Thulin prevented the hole from getting any deeper by scoring on a layup. Jack Crowley then made a steal and fed Jack Stanton for a 3-pointer.

Downers Grove South's Will Potter (2) shoots a free throw during basketball game between Downers Grove South at Downers Grove North. Dec 16, 2023.

But the Mustangs didn’t give up the lead until Thulin made a steal at half court and raced in for a game-tying layup at the 1:36 mark of the third quarter. On the next possession, Thulin found Bobby Grganto for a 3-pointer that gave the Trojans a 31-28 advantage.

North never surrendered the lead, although South cut a seven-point deficit to 37-36. That’s when Riemer got a defensive rebound and passed to Thulin, who was fouled and sank two free throws with 12.7 seconds left.

Thulin went crashing into the scorer’s table in an effort to defend Will Potter, who drew the foul with 9.4 ticks remaining. Potter made the first free throw but missed the second and Riemer came down with the rebound and was fouled.

Riemer, who had six points and five rebounds, calmly sank both foul shots to ice the victory.

“I knew they were going to foul me,” Riemer said. “We go through those situations every day in practice. It’s nothing new. I’ve been there and knocked them down. It’s senior year, stepped up and knocked them down.”

The Trojans knocked down 12 of 15 foul shots, including all 10 in the second half. In addition to Thulin’s two, Riemer and Aidan Akkawi both went 4-for-4.

The Mustangs were 5-for-13.

“There were a lot of good plays out there, I thought, from both teams,” Thomas said. “Zach is doing such a great job getting those guys rolling. I thought both sides had great momentum and runs at times and we just hit a couple free throws down the stretch that kind of gave us a margin.”

It wasn’t the big margin of recent seasons, but that didn’t matter to Thulin.

“I ran upstairs and I said, ‘Hey, a win’s a win,’” Thulin said. “That’s all we had to do. It feels good.”

Miller had mixed feelings but liked how the Mustangs battled.

“I’m not happy we lost, but I’m proud,” Miller said. “You’ve got to tip your cap to those guys. They just made a few more plays than we did. I think we’re going to learn from this.”