Boys basketball: Lincoln-Way Central resilient in win over Lemont

Knights finally seize control of back-and-forth affair

Lincoln-Way Central’s Korey Cagnolatti makes a move against Lemont on Wednesday, Jan. 10th, 2024 in New Lenox.

NEW LENOX – It was the kind of game that Lincoln-Way Central might have let get away from it earlier in the season.

But Korey Cagnolatti, Ben McLaughlin and the rest of the Knights weren’t quite ready to let Wednesday night’s nonconference game against Lemont out of their grasp as they scratched and clawed their way to a 58-55 win.

“I think we showed a lot of growth this game to be honest with you. We’ve come a long way since November. I mean, we essentially had a brand-new team with a lot of young guys,” Lincoln-Way Central coach Evan Wyllie said. I think guys are starting to hone in on their role a little bit. And we had some guys step up and make plays.”

Lincoln-Way Central’s Owen Novak looks to pass against Lemont on Wednesday, Jan. 10th, 2024 in New Lenox.

Lincoln-Way Central (7-10) opened a 42-39 lead at the end of the third quarter, which basically amounted to one of the larger advantages either team had managed to that point.

But Lemont (11-6) scored six of the first eight points of the fourth quarter to reclaim the lead and what looked like a fair amount of the momentum.

However, Ben McLaughlin reclaimed the Lincoln-Way Central lead with a 3-pointer on the Knights’ next possession, one of a number of big 3s McLaughlin would deliver on his way to 14 points.

“I‘m always ready to shoot the ball, and I have confidence,” McLaughlin said. “I like that my teammates are confident in me shooting the ball, as well.”

Lemont’s Shea Glotzbach drives around Lincoln-Way Central’s Logan Baechtold on Wednesday, Jan. 10th, 2024 in New Lenox.

Lemont didn’t fold, however, hitting three of four free throws to briefly reclaim the lead at 48-47.

Then Korey Cagnolatti began to assert his will on the contest.

He scored a basket to give Lincoln-Way Central back the lead, and after McLaughlin knocked down another big 3, he stretched Lincoln-Way Central’s lead to five points at 53-48 with a free throw.

Cagnolatti scored eight of his game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, including a key free throw with less than 30 seconds to play that kept Lemont at arm’s length.

“As soon as we started getting together as a group and we started passing to one another, things started to work,” Cagnolatti said. “It started to get a lot more comfortable because everybody started making their own shots. We started the season a little rough, but we’re slowly climbing our way back. And this is a great game to help push us forward.”

After Cagnolatti’s free throw pushed the Lincoln-Way Central lead to 56-53, Lemont couldn’t get a clean look from the 3-point line. Ryan Runaas (12 points) was forced to settle for a driving layup that trimmed the lead to 56-55. But Lemont couldn’t get a quick foul off the inbounds pass, and the Knights were able to run out all but 1.2 seconds before Kevin Barrett accounted for the final margin by knocking down a pair of free throws.

“We know we’ve got to bring it on the defensive end every single night to stay in these types of games,” Wyllie said. “And usually when you hold the team to, you know, the low 50s, you usually have a chance, and the biggest thing for us was our transition defense.

“We didn’t give up really anything easy. We made them work. And they were really well coached. We had a pretty good idea coming in what they were going to try and do, and I thought we did a pretty nice job. It worked out really well.”