By Ken Ryan
When St. Joseph dropped a number of close games earlier this season, senior Reggie Johnson didnt panic.I never doubted (our potential), Johnson said. You could see we had a lot of talent and it was just a matter of time before we came together. Early on we were just hitting walls, but were jelling at the right time.St. Joseph certainly looked good Friday, beating Farragut 58-50 in overtime to capture the Class 3A Nazareth Regional championship.The Chargers (20-8) are seeded No. 6 in the Glenbard South Sectional and will now take on No. 2 Marshall, which beat Westinghouse 77-60 Friday, in the sectional semifinal Wednesday.To get a regional championship is great, said Johnson, who had 13 points, six steals and five rebounds. We knew (Farragut) was ranked over us in the sectional so this was a big game. When it got to clutch time, we let our emotions calm down and were able to pull out the win.St. Joseph scored the first four points of overtime and led the rest of the way.Farragut (14-9) pulled within 49-47, but the Chargers closed the game on a 9-3 run to clinch the title.I said by the end of the year we were going to be competitive and we could make a run, St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore said. Were not as good as I thought, but I knew we had the potential if we worked at it to get better by the end of the year. It hasnt come easy, so its rewarding.Both teams had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation.St. Joseph had the ball with 1:10 remaining and tried to hold on for one shot, but turned the ball over with 18.7 seconds left. After a Farragut timeout, Farragut senior Rashaun Stimage drove to the basket, but missed a layup sending the game to overtime.Stimage battled foul trouble the entire contest, but still finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.It was a team effort, Johnson said. Rashaun still got his points, but we wore him down and he wasnt able to finish the game. He had a layup (in the closing seconds of regulation) he normally would make (to win the game), but since he was tired and worn down, it made a difference.St. Joseph used a balanced attack with Avery Harmon contributing 14 points and four steals, Karriem Simmons getting 10 points and eight rebounds, Paul Turner contributing nine points, three rebounds and three steals and A.J. Patty finishing with eight points and eight rebounds.It was so loud in the locker room I couldnt even hear my coach talking (after the game), Harmon said. It was tough, but we pulled it out. We always get better as the season goes on. Right now, I think this game just shows how good we are and where we can go with this team. As long as we keep listening to coach and playing our game we can beat anybody.
The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.
Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”
The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”
Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.
He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.
“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”
After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.
The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.
“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”
Corey Crawford was officially activated from injured reserve on Thursday and will start in goal for the first time since Dec. 23, 2017 when the Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes.
"It’s exciting," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I’m sure he’s looking forward to it and we’re all excited about it as well. It’ll be a fun situation for the guys, seeing him back in the net as well. So we’re looking for everyone to be excited about tonight’s game."
The two-time Stanley Cup champion was medically cleared to practice from his concussion on Oct. 1, but the Blackhawks wanted to give Crawford as much time as he needed to get his conditioning and puck-tracking skills up to game speed before putting him into game action.
"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said on Wednesday. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. It was a pretty long process. ... Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."
To make room for Crawford on the 23-man roster, the Blackhawks have assigned forward Luke Johnson to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Brandon Saad, who wore a white healthy scratch jersey all week at practice, will take his spot in the lineup.
For now, the Blackhawks will hang on to Anton Forsberg and carry three goaltenders as insurance as they get ready to start a seven-games-in-11-days stretch.
Crawford was 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals against average, .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 28 games last season. The Blackhawks were 17-30-8 without him and finished last in the Central Division.