Boys Basketball: Jackson Niego’s jumper helps Lyons top Downers Grove North

Lyons Township's Jackson Niego (5) shoots the winning basket with 11 seconds left in the game against Downers Grove North on Jan. 6, 2023 at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange.

LA GRANGE – After a sizzling offensive start to the year, Lyons found it challenging to score points for the second consecutive game Jan. 6.

That is, until Jackson Niego came up with the shot of the season thus far for the Lions.

The senior guard made a pull-up jumper with 33 seconds left to give Lyons a 39-38 win over Downers Grove North in a defensive battle of West Suburban Silver conference unbeatens.

Returning to the court for the first time since falling to Rolling Meadows in the final of the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic, the Lions improved to a perfect 4-0 in league play and 12-1 overall.

“We had Nik [Polonowski], who’s a great 3-point shooter, in the corner, which spaces the floor out,” said Niego, who finished with four points and two steals. “Graham [Smith] came up to set a ball screen and I got around my defender and got into the lane and had multiple options. I thought the pull-up was the best option.

“That was a game of runs, a lot of back and forth. We are usually [scoring] in the 60s or 70s, so for that to be such a low-scoring game, it shows it was a defensive battle. Coach was just saying how tough the West Suburban Silver conference is. We knew that from last year and years past. Every game is going to be a battle, both physically and defensively. You are going to have to make shots and free throws at the end.”

The visiting Trojans (13-2, 3-1), who entered riding a 13-game winning streak after a championship run at the East Aurora Holiday Invite and a nonconference win over Lincoln-Way Central, missed a potential game-winner with 1.2 seconds remaining. Maxwell Haack topped Downers Grove North with 10 points and knocked down back-to-back trifectas to give his team a 36-32 lead nearly halfway through the fourth quarter.

George Wolkow contributed seven points off the bench, Owen Thulin hit a pair of 3s and finished with six points, and Jacob Bozeman and Jack Stanton had five points apiece. Downers North took a 20-16 advantage into halftime and extended that margin to as many as 11 points in the third quarter.

“We just left too many empty possessions on the floor there in the fourth,” said Downers North coach Jim Thomas, whose team held Lyons to a season low in points. “We had the opportunity to continue to build the lead and struggled to close. But hats off to LT for winning the game.”

Trailing 29-18, Lyons closed out the third period with a 10-1 spurt before scoring the first four points of the fourth. Switching at times to a 1-2-2 zone, the Lions allowed only three field goals over the final 10 minutes of the game.

“The adjustments we make during a game are important to us,” said Polonowski, who led all scorers with 14 points, including six in the fourth quarter. “If a team is tearing apart our man-to-man [defense], we go to a 1-2-2. If they are tearing apart our 1-2-2, we go back to man. Those in-game adjustments are a huge part of our game plan. We do that really well. And we don’t just adjust on defense. We adjust on offense as well.

“This win was huge. That loss to Rolling Meadows did put us down, but a win like this gets us back on our feet. We have a tough schedule coming up so we couldn’t hang our heads after that loss. This is a great start to the second half of our season.”

Connor Carroll tallied six of his eight points in the third quarter while Matthew DeSimone had four points and six rebounds.

“Downers Grove North is really good,” Lyons coach Tom Sloan said. “They lost their first game of the year to a really good Lake Park team and haven’t lost since. We knew it was going to be a tough game to win. Whoever won this game was going to have to earn it. The ball didn’t go in the basket much but the effort was at a high level on both sides.

“Give credit to both sides. It was a really, really hard-fought game. It wasn’t the prettiest game but extremely competitive.”