It took a certain level of educated play mixed with pointed physicality for Blackhawk Christian to win Tuesday night’s game against Bishop Dwenger. The Braves found that perfect balance, fighting through tough play and a loud, sometimes in itself, aggressive environment for the 70-61 win.
The Braves have now won seven of their last eight games since Michael Pulver and Caleb Furst have returned to the lineup from injury.
Don’t let it seem like Bounce is beating around the bush. These two things are not mutually exclusive. When I last saw Blackhawk Christian in person, they were out efforting Adams Central in Monroe and playing masterfully in the process while backup players stepped up for them. Some of those players, like Abe Hicks and Cooper Wild, have continued to provide key roles still.
But you can’t replace Furst, everybody knows that about one of the state’s top sophomores. And as Blackhawk Christian coach Marc Davidson will tell anyone within ear shot, you can’t replace Pulver either. On Tuesday, in a game where Frankie Davidson scored a heavy and overwhelming 31 points of threes, dunks and everything in between, the consistent presence of Furst and Pulver seemed the difference in momentum at critical moments.
Blackhawk Christian started the game with four missed shots and a turnover in their first four offensive trips and Bishop Dwenger pushed out to a 6-0 lead before Davidson scored five straight by himself to make it a 6-5 game.
But all of the adversity, physicality and crowd engagement was set at the 4:47 mark of the first quarter when Bishop Dwenger’s John Hoffman was called for a blocking foul and then given an immediate technical for his reaction to the call. They were his second and third fouls of the game, setting an early tone for Saints post play against Furst.
While Davidson continued to shoulder an offensive load while his teammates got into their flow, the defensive intensity of a battle between Pulver and Bishop Dwenger’s Brenden Lytle brought out the best of the game on the perimeter, neither giving an inch until Pulver had to come out with 90 seconds to play in the first quarter after an attempt to take a charge from Lytle.
The Dwenger crowd, they certainly didn’t like the fact that the fouls were 6-2 in favor of the Braves after one quarter, nor the 19-15 score in favor of the host team. They were loud and negative. Blackhawk Christian didn’t flinch.
The Braves pushed their lead to 34-27 at halftime after Hicks scored five straight, flexing his own muscle as part of the controlling pace for Blackhawk Christian on this night as much as he has on others.
In the third quarter, it was more of the same all around for Blackhawk Christian. And that is what matters: consistency and control. Once they established the lead in the first quarter, 7-6, off seven straight Davidson points, they rarely backtracked from those two points of succcess. The closing minute of the third quarter saw Hayden Smithey bury one of those ‘heat check’ three pointers that got the Dwenger fans on their feet, only for Davidson to drain one right back on the other end immediately.
Not to be lost was the amount of times in the second half that Pulver found himself getting on the floor after a loose ball. If only every player could play with the passion and drive of putting themselves on the line like Pulver.
The fourth quarter was a lot of exchanging of baskets with the game getting as close as four points, but when the Braves broke the Saints press with a minute to play for an uncontested Davidson dunk, things were sewn up in Blackhawk Christian’s favor on icy outside night.
Bounce loves the aggressive nature that Blackhawk Christian played with. It has become a situation of steel sharpening steel as their last eight games have been against some elite teams. Pulver and Furst returned to the lineup after Christmas to help lift the Braves immediately to the North Daviees Tournament title. They have followed it with a 3-1 record against the SAC and Monday’s win over two-time defending Class 2A Illinois state champion Chicago Orr. That schedule, that enforced work ethic has made the Braves want it more than a lot of teams I see week in and out in this area.
Davidson finished with a game high 31 points while Furst added 16 and Zane Burke scored 13. The Saints were led by Kochanski’s 19 points and Brenden Lytle added 13 points.
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