Despite the vast development of Niles North’s role players throughout the season, the Vikings’ offense still largely depended on the play-making ability of Abdel Nader.
The 6-foot, 6-inch senior guard’s high-scoring outputs carried Niles North to the school’s first sectional title, but in Wednesday’s Super-Sectional the Vikings finally met a team that matched their athleticism and quickness.
Featuring a starting lineup with no player under 6-foot-2, Warren’s depth and balance was too much for Niles North as the Blue Devils held on for a 56-50 victory in the IHSA Class 4A Waukegan Super-Sectional.
“They’re really big. I think it affects everybody they play,” Niles North Coach Glenn Olson said. “They’ve got a college lineup and we don’t.
“We want to get to the basket a bit more and use our kick game and spot up. Unfortunately for us we didn’t have a great shooting night from the perimeter.”
To say Niles North looked nervous would be an understatement. A raucous crowd – two-thirds of which were dressed in Warren’s blue and yellow – filled Waukegan’s gym, and Niles North’s inexperience looked like a big disadvantage early on.
They turned over the ball four times in the first three minutes and missed their first six shots. Nader’s driving layup would be the Vikings’ only points of the quarter as they trailed 11-2 after the first eight minutes.
Although Warren struggled shooting from the outside, the Blue Devils dominated the offensive glass. They scored seven second-chance points in the first quarter and the theme would continue throughout the game.
“We just couldn’t rebound. We couldn’t play our game because we couldn’t rebound and move the ball up the court,” Niles North senior Earl Washington said. “If we could’ve moved the ball up the court a lot more we would’ve gotten more points.”
Niles North’s offensive struggles were largely as a result of Warren’s length and size. Facing a team that was bigger and more athletic for one of the few times this season, Niles North’s dribble-drive offense wasn’t effective in getting shots at the rim. And on the few occasions they did get to the basket, referees let a lot of contact go.
After a two-minute rest midway through the second quarter, Nader spearheaded a 13-2 run to close the quarter. His step-back three-pointer – much like the shot University of Connecticut guard Kemba Walker pulled off against Pittsburgh – with two seconds left pulled Niles North within two points at halftime.
Nader made his last three shots of the half, but struggled for the game. He didn’t get a lot of open looks and was consistently surrounded by two or three defenders when he attacked the basket.
“We wanted to try and keep a big player on him. We thought that if [Nader] didn’t post up as much that would be to our advantage,” said Warren Coach Chuck Ramsey, whose defense held Nader to 9-for-27 shooting. “And [to] not be discouraged when he makes some tough shots. He’s going to make some tough shots and he did; he’s quite the player.”
Niles North clawed back on several occasions in the second half, but never fully closed the deficit. After getting within five points after two free throws from sophomore guard Malachi Nix, Warren’s JoVaughn Gaines scored back-to-back layups, the second of which came after another Viking turnover.
“Got it to four a couple times and as soon as we’d get it to four they’d answer with a play,” Olson said. “That turnover, that steal with Gaines; that was a big play. That was the turning point.”
Wednesday night’s loss ends a spectacular season for Niles North, but the rebuilding job for Coach Olson will not be easy. The Vikings lose a majority of their roster, including three starters from Wednesday night’s game, to graduation this year. Nix and junior Mychael Henley will be two of the leaders for the Vikings next season.
“[The seniors] mean a lot to the program and more to me. I love these guys,” Olson said. “These guys came in with a lot of years of not a lot of basketball success and they believed.
“Even through our rough start, they came together; that says a lot about these guys. This senior class defines where we’re trying to go as a program.”