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Lemont's David Czupta (3) drives to the basket around Plainfield Central's Mitch Young (4) at the Romeoville Christmas 2012 Tourney championship game held at Romeoville, Illinois on Saturday, December 29, 2012. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Plainfield Central realizes it is not a good idea to play from behind against a talented team such as Lemont, but keeping that from happening is another matter.
The Indians raced to a 34-23 halftime lead, survived a third-quarter lull and went on to beat the Wildcats 61-53 Saturday night in the championship game of the Romeoville Christmas Classic.
“A three-minute stretch in the second quarter, that was it,” Central coach Steve Lamberti said. “Outside of that, we played them tough.
“But you can’t let a team like Lemont, with such poised guards and how well coached they are, get up on you. All of a sudden you’re trying to play catch-up, and that’s not easy.”
Lemont (13-1) is the second champion of the Romeoville tournament, the successor to the Lemont Christmas Classic. Crane won the inaugural event.
“Some parents were lamenting that now that we don’t have the tournament, we have our two best years,” said Lemont coach Rick Runaas, whose team finished third in 2011. “But we still had great crowd support here.”
Tournament MVP Juozas Balciunas led the way with 24 points, including 10-of-11 free throws, and four steals. All-Tournament picks Joe Hehir and Mike Wisz scored 14 and 11, respectively.
“They (Wildcats) like to run like we do, so I was glad we played them,” Balciunas said. “They gave us a good game.
“We like this kind of game because we have guys who can run and spot up and shoot. So we create a lot of options.”
The Indians finished 22-of-28 from the foul line and were 21-of-23 at one point.
“Every team has to make free throws,” Balciunas said. “That’s a big part of our success.”
“In the third quarter, we shut it down, and I don’t really know why,” Runaas said of his team being outscored 16-7 as its lead dwindled to 41-39. “But defensively, we stayed in it. When we went strictly man toward the end, that finished it off for us.”
“Basketball is a game of runs, and you’ve got to control your runs,” Hehir said. “I guess we controlled ours a little better.
“It feels great to win this.”
Central (6-6) received 15 points from Curtis Harrington and 9 points and 10 rebounds from Logan Velasquez, both of whom were All-Tournament selections. Duvaun Goodlow chipped in with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
“When I called timeout with 18 seconds left, I told the guys that we’re better than we were a week ago,” Lamberti said. “If we play like this the rest of the year, we’ll be fine.”