Bulls

Can St. Benedict contend in Class 1A?

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Can St. Benedict contend in Class 1A?

Lamon Dawkins used to play football. He was a running back and wide receiver on his father's youth team, the Little Eagles, who played at Hamlin Park. He still plays football from time to time. He wishes St. Benedict had a football program. If it did, he'd be suiting up in helmet and pads.

But it doesn't. Dawkins enrolled at St. Benedict to play basketball and get a good education. In his view, it was the "obvious choice."

"I like football but I like basketball more," Dawkins said. "I get more excited with basketball. I like running down the court, dunking on people and shooting. And it's even more fun this year because we're running all the time, run-and-gun."

Dawkins is a 6-foot-1 junior guard who is averaging 21.5 points per game for a St. Benedict team that is 17-5 and seeded No. 2 behind highly rated Hope Academy in the Class 1A sectional at Hope.

Last week, St. Benedict defeated Gordon Tech 59-53 as Dawkins scored 32 points and 6-foot-3 senior Henry Mireku contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds.

The Bengals meet Roycemore on Wednesday and Providence-St. Mel on Friday. With an enrollment of 230 students, the school has slipped to Class 1A. St. Benedict hasn't won a regional title since 1992. But coach Tom Horn thinks his current squad is primed to make history.

"This is my best team," Horn said. "This team is averaging 80.5 points per game, most in school history. It is a high risk, high reward team. We play a 1-3-1 trap and 2-2-1 defense. If you score, we try to outscore you. Our goal is to get the ball up quickly and take the best shot."

Horn has known success at St. Benedict. A 1977 graduate, he was a sophomore on a 24-3 team that was ranked No. 8 in the Chicago area. Indiana coach Bob Knight came to scout two of Horn's teammates, Steve Scales (who went to TCU) and Bob Middleton (who went to Texas A&M).

Horn attended Wright Junior College for one year, then transferred to Northeastern Illinois and walked onto the basketball team. He has been teaching in the Chicago public schools for 29 years. After stops at Schurz, Lane Tech and Northside Prep, he landed at St. Benedict four years ago.

Last year's team was 17-8 and lost to Hope Academy in the regional. Afterward, he decided it was time to make a change in his philosophy.

"We have a lot of talented kids," Horn said. "Later in your career, after you reach a point where you have won 230 games...well, I talked to my staff and we felt we had to change to a run-and-gun offense because I wanted to see these kids go to college and I wanted them to put up big numbers.

"Early in your career, you think about your ego. But now it's all about the kids. They want to run. They run all summer with AAU. So I changed my philosophy. At Northside Prep, we won 23 games one year, beat Notre Dame and lost to Marshall in the city playoff. But this team has more talent."

But can they beat Hope Academy?

Three weeks ago, St. Benedict had a 10-point lead over Hope Academy in the third quarter but lost 75-70 for the conference championship.

"To beat Hope, we must guard them," Horn said. "They had too many easy baskets. We can score with anyone. We lost 92-87 in double overtime to Jones. We aren't afraid to match basket for basket. But we can't give up easy baskets. We can play with them."

Dawkins, who has a 36-inch vertical jump and is described as a Division I prospect by his coach, and Mireku, who averages 16.5 points and 12 rebounds per game, are the key contributors. Very athletic, Mireku plays in the paint for the Bengals but likely will be a two-guard in college.

Other starters are 5-foot-9 senior point guard Ray Busch (five points, nine assists per game), 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior Earl Briggs (eight points, five rebounds per game) and 6-foot-3 senior Leon Brown (seven points, five rebounds, four blocks and three assists per game).

"Briggs clears the boards. If the other team beats our press, he is back there to defend," Horn said. "Brown is long-armed and guards the best player on the other team."

Coming off the bench are 5-foot-2 freshman point guard Marshawn Williams and 6-foot senior guard Jacques Lewis.

Dawkins accepts his role as the go-to guy. "I'm supposed to lead the charge down the floor," he said.

He recalls St. Benedict's opening game against St. Gregory. The Bengals were trailing by two points in the second quarter when Horn decided it was time to start the track meet.

"In practice, (Horn) told us we would run and gun. He wanted to see us run with the ball. We were surprised. Sometimes we get tired but we were excited to run, run and gun," Dawkins said.

"Then against St. Gregory, in the second quarter, he said to run and gun and we took off. We ran away from them. We liked (running) more. What is run and gun? Every rebound we grab, we go, we attack the basket, we don't wait, the whole team goes to the basket."

Dawkins hopes to play basketball in college. His dream schools are Memphis and Butler. To earn a scholarship to one of those schools, he acknowledges that he must continue to improve, as he has since last season when he averaged 15 points per game.

"I worked hard all summer," he said, recalling trips to Illinois' camp and frequent sessions at the Carter Club at 2919 N. Leavitt. "I woke up every day and played basketball. I went one-on-one with family members all the time, people I didn't know, kids at the boys club, anyone. I just wanted to get better at everything I did."

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

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AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."