After setback in regular-season finale, Legends refocus North Side plays DeKalb tonight in sectional.
After last week’s bizarre loss at South Bend Riley, North Side will not enter the postseason ranked the No. 1 team in the state.
So how exactly does that change the Legends’ approach beginning tonight against DeKalb to kick off the Carroll Sectional?
“It was definitely a tough loss losing that last game going into sectional, but we feel like it refocused us,” senior Jaylen Butz said.
North Side (22-2) enters the postseason as one of the area teams most likely to make a big splash over the next month in the tournament. But a stiff sectional field that includes SAC champion Snider and a Carroll squad playing some of its best basketball of the season makes it no guarantee that the Legends will play into mid-March and beyond.
With the Riley loss in the rearview, it’s all about being ready for the 4A playoffs for North.
“Our guys didn’t want to lose (at Riley), especially in the manner in which we lost, but the positive they took out of it is they believe they are the better team,” said North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq. “No matter what took place and what transpired to create the loss, we are still the same group we were. (The loss) just redirects our focus. We need to take care of the little things.”
Technical fouls and free-throw confusion reigned over the final few seconds of the Legends’ trip to South Bend. By the time the smoke cleared, North Side had lost 74-73 to a 19-win Riley team.
Regardless of how it happened and the late-game controversy, the fact was that North Side lost to a talented Riley team in front of a full gym cheering against the Legends. It was a hostile environment complete with pop can throwing and post-game court rushing.
While maybe not as intense, the Carroll Fieldhouse will not be as welcoming this week as North’s By Hey Arena. The Chargers would like another shot at the Legends after narrowly missing out on an upset earlier this month, while Snider wants to show that its victory over Khaliq’s club early in the season was no fluke.
The loss to Riley magnified issues that Khaliq has been seeing for weeks. At times, his team has taken possessions off, particularly on the defensive end. The urgency to perform at a high level consistently lessened as SAC title chances dimmed, led on by complacency.
A loss, Khaliq hopes, will help North get back on track.
“We are realizing the areas in which we are deficient,” Khaliq said. “If you fail to accept your deficiencies, eventually they will catch up to you. I feel we have been playing rather well offensively, but not defensively.”
Butz admitted that there were some tears in the locker room following the Riley loss, along with some anger. Can North Side channel its emotions into a positive? Or could March be a short month for the Legends?
“(The Riley loss) is definitely driving us and making us work harder,” Butz said. “Anyone can get beat on any given night. Most teams are not as talented as us, but if they play harder, that can end it for us.”