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Joe Hehir didn’t start in Lemont’s 58-49 victory over Lincoln-Way North on Tuesday, but he helped finish it.
Hehir came off the bench and lit a fire under the host Indians, scoring 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting and adding three assists and three steals.
The 5-11 senior guard was especially effective in the second half when Lemont turned a four-point halftime lead into a comfortable bulge by the fourth quarter. He scored six points during a 10-0 run that gave Lemont (1-0) a 54-37 advantage with 5:03 remaining in the fourth.
“My coaches say I have a lot of energy and I bring great energy to the floor, so I just try to come out with a spark, with a chip on my shoulder,” Hehir said. “I may not be a starter but I want to be a starter, so I play as hard as I can every second of the game.”
Hehir and starting guard Juozas Balciunas were the keys to the second-half run, getting steals out of the half-court defense and finishing in transition. Hehir opened the fourth quarter with a pair of fast-break layups and, after Balciunas scored off a steal and backhanded save by Mike Wisz, found the net again on a left-handed baseline drive.
“I think Joe surprises a lot of people with his speed and quickness,” Lemont coach Rick Runaas said. “He’s quick on the floor, he’s fearless and he brought energy off the bench. He’s got a fierceness that belies his size.”
Hehir played receiver and defensive back for Lemont’s football team that advanced to the state semifinals, so he only joined the basketball team last week.
“That’s probably why Joe is coming off the bench,” Runaas said. “I’m either going to have to start him or convince him that he serves the team better coming off the bench. It’s very valuable to have that kind of person coming off the bench to really just inject that kind of enthusiasm and change the tempo of the game.”
Balciunas scored a game-high 21 points, including five-three pointers, and Martynas Einikis added 14 points for Lemont, which has high expectations after returning three starters from last year’s 25-3 squad.
“I think I played good but I don’t think it was my best,” Hehir said. “I thought we played great [as a team]. It took us a while to get going, but I think we found our stroke and did a good job.”
Cody Murphy had 12 points and eight rebounds for Lincoln-Way North (2-2), which made only 7-of-27 shots from the floor in the second half and finished 8-of-16 from the free-throw line. Tre Lewis added eight points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals and Daryle Morgan snared 14 rebounds for the Phoenix.