PALATINE – The first player off the bench, some will say, is critical to the success of a boys basketball team.
For York, sophomore A.J. Levine fulfilled that role Saturday afternoon at the Ed Molitor Thanksgiving Tournament at Palatine High School.
Levine came off the bench to score seven of his 11 points in a crucial fourth quarter in the Dukes’ 55-53 win over the host Pirates for third place.
“A.J. has really stepped up for us,” said York coach Mike Dunn. “He’s found a way to play varsity minutes. It’s a compliment of his willingness to learn. He is so coachable.”
After losing star center Nick Hesch to a torn right ACL a few days ago, the Dukes had a scare in the second quarter when Levine banged knees with another player. The collision sent Levine to the floor in pain and he needed help from his coaches to get to the bench.
Palatine (2-2), which was nursing a 42-36 lead following Sam Millstone’s 3-pointer, saw the Dukes (3-1) begin to chip away.
With the help of an 8-0 run, York held a 44-42 lead and a 46-44 lead with 5:03 left in the game.
The Pirates’ Grant Dersnah, who scored (15 points, converted a 3-point play and Bobby Widlowski hit two free throws for a 49-46 lead with 3:18 left. Levine scored and was followed by a 3-point play from Drew Kricher, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds, for a 51-49 lead.
Tyler Swierczek, who scored 14 points, connected from long range for Palatine’s last lead at 52-51 with 1:27 remaining.
Levine then connected for two free throws with 1:17 left. Fellow sophomore Brandon Richardson hit two free throws after he rebounded his own missed shot for a 55-52 lead with six seconds to play.
Three seconds later, Sam Millstone was fouled for Palatine and made the first free throw. Millstone banged the second off the backboard and the ball bounced outside of the arc. Millstone put up an off-balance shot that missed.
“The coaches preach composure in tough situations,” Levine said. “We have to stay focused and stick to our game plan. My teammates encouraged me to shoot and drive to the basket. Today shooting and free throws paid off for us.”
“This was a great game,” Dunn said. “Palatine and coach (Eric) Millstone have some really good players and play similar defense. It was important to us to find a way to win after our loss to Glenbrook South the night before.”
“Games like this are going to make us a better team in February and March,” Eric Millstone said. “Yes, this one stings a little bit now, but we’ll learn from it. We have some good pieces to our team. Now we just need to get those pieces to play together and jell. We’ll be all right.”