There’s always tomorrow.
Unique and often-stiff competition produces challenges in holiday tournaments, but Highland Park coach Ross Deutsch sees that as a benefit, especially because, win or lose, his Giants get to be right back on the court the next day.
“The beauty of a tournament like this is our third game in three days will be teams coming off losses — 7 o’ clock bus, 8 a.m. game. It’s (about) character,” he said. “We have high-character guys. I believe in our guys and I know we’ll play more together and urgent, because the most important game on our schedule is the next one.”
Highland Park will be looking for a bounceback result following a 54-44 loss to Wheaton North on Wednesday, Dec. 27, in the consolation bracket of the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York High School in Elmhurst.
The Giants opened the tournament with a loss on Tuesday, Dec. 26, to highly ranked Downers Grove North to set up the consolation matchup. Like all tournament teams, Highland Park is guaranteed four games in the Jack Tosh and will square off with Andrew High School (Tinley Park) on Thursday, Dec. 28.
Wheaton North kept the pressure on Highland Park most of Wednesday morning’s contest, using a trapping press to help force 21 Giants’ turnovers.
“Give them credit (for) the way they play, accelerating and speeding us up,” Deutsch said of the Falcons. “At times we showed poise and got great shots and at times we got caught up in their tempo and their pace.”
The Giants got off to a first-quarter lead, but a Falcons’ 15-2 burst between the first and second quarters put HP in a 10-point deficit from which it never recovered.
Highland Park answered Wheaton North’s run with a 7-0 spurt of its own, but North punched right back, ending the second quarter with eight unanswered points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer, to claim a 10-point advantage, 31-21, at halftime.
“At times we showed we can play how we’re capable of. We just have to put it together for 32 minutes and avoid those end-of-quarter spurts,” Deutsch said.
The Giants hung around in the second half, often climbing to within six or seven points of the Falcons, but they never could mount a sustained comeback.
Junior Alex Kriser was Highland Park’s harbinger of hope. The guard sank seven 3-pointers in the contest, including four in the second half, to tally a game-high 21 points.
Kriser said his big night started right from the outset, and he was able to keep moving to find open space around Wheaton North’s defense.
“I hit my first three of the game and right after that felt really good,” he said. “My teammates were doing a great job finding me after I hit a couple. … It’s really being shot-ready. Two or three passes ahead, you have to be thinking shot when the ball is moving around.”
Kriser’s shooting barrage was especially important as the Falcons’ keyed on Giants’ leading scorer Simon Moschin, a junior who scored 18 points in Tuesday’s loss and had a difficult time finding an open shot on Wednesday.
Moschin finished with 4 points but chipped in 5 assists. Senior Gabe Shamberg navigated foul trouble to score 7 points. Griffin Killeen and Brett Karman scored 4 points each, and Nick Blumer added 3 steals for Highland Park.
Jack Speers (13 points, 6 rebounds) and Connor Speers (11 points, 6 rebounds) led the Falcons, who outrebounded the Giants 25-16.
The loss was Highland Park’s fifth straight after its 5-4 start to the season. Deutsch said the Giants have been inconsistent to start the season but have also showed improvement as the schedule gets tougher. He called the group tight-knight, and Kriser thinks that’s what will help Highland Park bust the skid.
“I think we just have to stick together as a team,” Kriser said. “I don’t think it’s in doubt that we will. If we stick together and keep doing our stuff, I think we have a good chance to succeed tomorrow and the next day.”
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