LOCKPORT – An outright SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue Division championship isn’t in the cards for the Lincoln-Way East boys basketball team this season.
The Griffins have a couple of narrow losses to league-leading Bolingbrook, the latest by three points last Friday, and can only tie the Raiders at best. But after losing two of their previous three games, the Griffins were looking to play the type of basketball that netted them 20-plus victories this season. This is the first time since 2018 that Lincoln-Way East has reached the 20-win mark and the third time in its 22-season history.
BJ Powell scored 20 points and George Bellevue added 15 as the Griffins did just that by defeating Lockport 66-49 in an SWSC Blue matchup on Tuesday evening in Lockport.
“It was a great win,” said freshman guard Powell. “We had to bounce back, and we know there are still big things ahead of us in the tournament. We know if we play as a team we are able to score a lot. We just have to work together.”
Lincoln-Way East (22-4, 5-2) won a more defensive matchup against the Porters by a score of 55-40 on Jan. 20 in Frankfort. This time around the Griffins came out hot, jumping to a huge first-quarter lead. Senior guard Quinton Hunter, who scored seven points, got a rebound basket for Lockport (16-11, 2-4) 27 seconds into the game.
But that was the only lead of the evening for the Porters and one of the few key rebounds they got. Lincoln-Way East responded with a 16-0 run, which included eight points and a pair of 3-pointers by Powell. It was 18-6 after the first quarter.
“Everything helps,” Bellevue said. “In that 16-0 run we got a lot of rebounds and moved the ball ahead.”
A three-point play by senior guard Adam Labada, who had a game-high 24 points, closed Lockport within 18-11 with 6:35 left in the second quarter. But junior guard Matt Hudik (nine points) and senior guard Kaden Ross (eight points) hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and the lead never got below double digits the rest of the game. The Griffins led 36-21 at halftime.
“We got off to a great start,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rich Kolimas said. “We’ve been riding George all season but BJ and Matt hit some big 3-pointers for us. Plus having a guy like (6-foot-8 junior center) Mac Hagemaster in the middle for us helps as he clogs things up and does the little things that help us win.”
The Griffins led 51-31 after three quarters. Junior guard Jalen Falcon (seven points) got in the scoring column in the fourth quarter and Labuda had six rebounds and nine points in the quarter. Lockport closed within 11 a couple of times midway through the fourth quarter.
The Porters, who have clinched their third straight winning season and fourth in five years. eventually got it to 59-49 on a pair of free throws by Labuda with 2:22 remaining. But they never scored again and Lincoln-Way East closed it out with a 7-0 run.
“They are big, strong kids and got us on the glass,” Lockport coach Brett Hespell said of the Griffins. “We just couldn’t handle that and got behind big early. I was proud of the way we came back, but it was too little, too late. We’ve got to keep getting better, and we’ve got two weeks [until the regionals] to do it.
Kolimas, who has been the Griffins’ coach in all 22 of their seasons, recorded his 300th career win earlier this season.
“Lockport didn’t quit,” Kolimas said. “They fought, and give them credit, but after the Bolingbrook loss we knew we had to regroup. There are larger goals to accomplish.”
Kyle Olagbegi had 10 points for Lincoln-Way East. Senior forward Bellevue believes this group is special.
“We know we are already there,” Bellevue said of the Griffins’ place in school history. “After we lost to Bolingbrook last week coach came to practice and wasn’t upset. He said ‘it is what it is.’ We want to play them again, and we just have to play as a team.”