Bulls

Thornton falls short to Downers North

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Thornton falls short to Downers North

By Tony Baranek

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Another time, another situation, and the pair of 92-yard touchdown plays Thornton quarterback JoWahn Brown combined on with wide receiver Jauan Wesley during the final three minutes might have gone down in playoff folklore.

Instead, it was window dressing in a game already out of reach.

Just started executing too late, I guess, a sad Brown quietly said after the Wildcats crash-landed Friday night in a 29-13 second-round Class 7A loss to visiting Downers Grove North.

Indeed, the two scores came too little, too late. North built a 29-0 lead before Thornton was able to find the end zone.

A power surge knocked out the scoreboard for a time, but it was running thunder that knocked out the Wildcats.

Downers Grove North (7-4), eighth-seeded and having already shocked No. 1 seed Batavia, stunned No. 5 Thornton with the powerful rushing duo of Kyle Leto and Brandon Salter, who combined for 194 yards rushing and each scored a touchdown.

The Wildcats, who turned the ball over twice in the first six minutes and trailed 19-0 at halftime, saw their season end at 8-3.

Until the late back-to-back highlight-reel plays, the best moments of the night for the Wildcats probably were their first two plays from scrimmage, runs for six and eight yards by Jamal Towns.

On the next play, Browns pass to DAndre Fuller resulted in a three-yard loss. Worse yet, on the next snap Brown was intercepted by Norths Michael Dashut.

The Trojans moved the ball from Thorntons 24 to the 7 before a fumble recovery by the Wildcats Ronnie Cross stopped the threat.

Two plays later, though, Thornton receiver Jason Towns caught a pass, but fumbled after a 12-yard gain.

This time North cashed in, scoring on its first snap on a 17-yard run by Leto.

On their next possession, the Wildcats went back to Jamal Towns for runs of 15 and two yards. But back-to-back sacks of Brown stalled the drive.

North followed with a 76-yard drive, every yard gained on the ground. One of those rushes was a crusher, as North punter Gareth Jones faked from the Thornton 49 and gained six yards for a first down.

And we were playing for the fake, but they still got it, Thornton coach Bill Mosel said later. It was just one of those things.

North later scored on the drive on a 2-yard sneak by quarterback David Edwards, and added another TD on a 3-yard run by Salter to take a 19-0 lead into intermission.

For Thornton, it was simply a frustrating night on both sides of the ball. Brown wasnt able to even target Wesley until a seven-yard play on the Wildcats first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Brown spent a lot of time fleeing tacklers. He was sacked five times.

North added to its lead in the second half, scoring on a 30-yard field goal by Jones and a 2-yard run by Edwards.

They did a good job, Mosel said. They took it to us. They handled us up front, and youve got to take your hats off to them.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.