Boys basketball: Defensive identity eludes Joliet Catholic in loss to Marian

Hilltoppers fall 73-59 Saturday night

Joliet Catholic’s Jayden Armstrong makes a move against Marian Catholic on Saturday, Jan. 6th, 2024 in Joliet.

JOLIET – It’s not that Joliet Catholic Academy can’t score. The Hilltoppers had two players in double-figures Saturday night and two more with nine points.

It’s getting the defensive stop when they need it that has so far vexed the Hilltoppers this season, especially in East Suburban Catholic League play.

Witness Saturday night’s 73-59 loss to Marian Catholic. Joliet Catholic raced back from a six-point deficit to take a 47-46 lead three minutes into the third quarter on the strength of a 10-0 outburst. But the Spartans answered back with a 12-2 run to finish the quarter for a 58-49 advantage, and the Hilltoppers were running uphill the rest of the way.

“It’s a matter of us finding our defensive identity, and right now we don’t really have that,” Hilltoppers coach Adam DeGroot said. “We haven’t been able to string stops together and that showed at the tail end of the third quarter and going into the fourth.”

“It’s a matter of us finding our defensive identity, and right now we don’t really have that. We haven’t been able to string stops together and that showed at the tail end of the third quarter and going into the fourth.”

—  Adam DeGroot, Joliet Catholic boys basketball coach

JCA had taken the lead largely on the strength of a 3-pointer by Connor Louthan (15 points on the night) and five points, three on 26-footer, by Jake Troyner (seven points). But then the well went dry, both on offense and defense.

The Spartans were able to hit cutters heading to the basket – Zack Sharkey (14 points) made a meal of that – and drive inside as well. Jonah Weathers had eight of his game-high 28 points in the third quarter for Marian.

The problem can be fixed, DeGroot figures, and it may be that the crucible that is the ESCC will prove more help than hindrance.

“We learned last year that being battle-tested in our conference goes a long way,” DeGroot said. “For us, we’re still searching for that good-quality result win.”

James Pilapil, a senior guard who scored 11 points, sees the turnaround as possible.

“Our team’s a little all around the world,” Pilapil said. “We need to communicate. We need to come together on screens. It’s not really a reoccurring problem. We learn how to figure it out. We need to have a full-game effort.”

JCA, which hadn’t played since beating Aurora East in tournament play on Dec. 29, fell to 7-7, 1-5 in ESCC play.

Marian, after falling to Notre Dame on Friday night, improved to 11-6, 4-2.

Joliet Catholic head coach Adam DeGroot watches the action against Marian Catholic on Saturday, Jan. 6th, 2024 in Joliet.