HINSDALE – Throughout much of Friday’s championship game of the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, Bolingbrook clearly demonstrated why it should be regarded among the state’s best boys basketball teams.
But during the contest’s latter stages, the Raiders also showed that they need to do a better job of wrapping things up, which is understandable since they haven’t found themselves in that position very often.
When all was said and done, Raiders coach Rob Brost was definitely happy to come away with a 67-62 victory over Homewood-Flossmoor, which clearly wasn’t willing to throw in the towel after it fell behind by 24 points late in the third quarter.
In a matchup of the teams to beat in the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue Division, the Raiders (10-0) were led by an impressive effort from tournament most valuable player Nana Akenten, who posted game-highs of 23 points and 13 rebounds. He was 8 of 14 from the field, including 6 of 9 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Although he wasn’t sure that he hadn’t committed any turnovers during the four-day event, Akenten was credited with doing that when recognized as the MVP. Regardless, the fact that a player who touched the ball often and was guarded so heavily and rarely gave the ball away speaks to just how well the future University of Nebraska athlete performed this week.
“H-F is a really good team that’s always been a good program and they’re our rivals, as well, so it’s always fun to play them,” Akenten said. “Everyone just took what they gave us and we just pushed ahead as much as possible. In the fourth quarter they started to fight, so we just had to battle more toward the end. The beauty about this team is that we’re so deep that when we get in tight situations, coach always knows what to do and who to put in.
“I honestly didn’t know that I didn’t have any turnovers because I felt like I had a couple. I love this team so much because you just can’t focus on one player, because someone else will step up. I like our chemistry. Everybody on this team likes each other and we hang out outside of basketball, so we’re real comfortable with each other. This team is just one big family and later down the line that will really help us stick together in tough times.”
In the last three games of the tournament, Akenten averaged 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. Malik Binns also made the all-tournament squad after averaging 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds through four games. He had 14 points and eight rebounds in the championship.
Bolingbrook also received 14 points, six assists and six steals from Kaleb Thornton while Joseph Yesufu added nine points. The Raiders shot 23 of 41 from the field (56.1 percent) while H-F made good on 22 of 57 shot attempts (38.6 percent).
The Vikings (10-2), who play at Bolingbrook on Jan. 13 and host the Raiders on Feb. 10, were led by Nicholas Holmes (19 points) and Jeffrey Boyd (18 points), both of whom made four 3-pointers.
“H-F is really good and they were 10-1 coming into this game for a reason,” Brost said. “They’re well-coached and didn’t give up and to their credit, they fought all the way. You know that any time Bolingbrook plays H-F, it’s going to be a battle and it was tonight. If you told me before the game that we’d get a five-point win, I would have signed up for that.
“We show what we’re capable of is spurts, but we also showed in the last three minutes what we’re capable of, as well. So this is a good learning tool for us. We can be one of the top teams in the state and if we don’t play right, things can get away from us. Our guys genuinely like each other and care about one another, and that’s hard to find with high school kids.”
Bolingbrook got off to a fast start as Akenten hit three straight 3-pointers to give his team an early 9-2 lead. H-F could get no closer than seven points back in that quarter, and the Raiders took a 21-12 cushion into the second period and expanded it to 15 points before settling for a 32-20 halftime advantage.
After the Vikings closed to within 43-30 in the third quarter, the Raiders concluded that period with a 13-4 burst to claim a 56-34 lead heading into the final eight minutes. It was still 62-46 when H-F started its furious comeback, scoring 16 of the contest’s final 21 points.