Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Under pressure (Men’s basketball)

The Wildcats better hope it’s not the arena.

High schooler Brandon Lee played his first big game at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday night. But the senior, who will join the Northwestern men’s basketball team next season, had a subpar coming-out party.

Lee’s nationally No. 5-ranked Peoria Central Lions (21-2) were taking on No. 9 West Aurora (24-1) in the highly anticipated ninth annual McDonald’s City-Suburban Showdown. USA Today, which produces the prep national rankings, called the matchup the must-see high school basketball game of the week.

“I felt a little pressure to do well, but, more importantly, I had a lot of pressure, along with my teammates, to come out and win in this big game,” Lee said.

Maybe it was the bright lights or the pressure of knowing his future coach was watching from press row. Either way, Lee didn’t live up to the hype in his first outing at Welsh-Ryan. And neither did his team, which lost 62-52.

The Lions scored just two points in the first quarter — both by Lee, if that’s any comfort to the Wildcats.

Lee finished with 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting, 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. He also recorded one rebound, two assists and five turnovers.

Lee’s scoring total was 3.5 points below his season average, and he and his Peoria teammates seemed to be against the ropes all evening.

In the locker room after the game, Lee blamed himself for the team’s failings.

“I’m a little frustrated right now,” he said. “I gotta learn to keep my composure and help my teammates get better.”

Chuck Buescher, Peoria Central’s head coach, said he had hoped for a better performance from his two standout players. Senior Shaun Livingston, a future member of the Duke Blue Devils, didn’t have an outstanding game either. Regarded by many as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, Livingston scored 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting while committing four turnovers in front of representatives from 24 NBA teams there to watch him play.

“Shaun and Brandon are our two strongest players, and we needed good games from them tonight, which we did not receive,” Buescher said. “I think Brandon was excited about playing here tonight, and maybe he was trying to prove too much. I’m disappointed for him, but I don’t want to trade him for anybody.”

Buescher tried to calm Lee down before the game, and attempted to ease some of the burden that might have been on his shoulders.

“What I tried to tell him is that you have nothing to prove,” he said. “You already got the scholarship.”

The future NU player’s defense was superb, even while he struggled on offense. Lee did not balk at the pressure of guarding Justin Cerasoli, the 31st-ranked recruit in the nation according to prepstars.com recruiting columnist Rob Harrington.

Lee calmly shut down Cerasoli, who had 13 points on 2-of-8 shooting. Lee also forced the Seton Hall signee to commit eight turnovers.

“(Lee) is a tough player, and he reminds me of myself sometimes,” said NU guard Jitim Young, who was in attendance with NU coach Bill Carmody and fellow Cats Michael Thompson and Michael Jenkins.

Young said Lee has impressed him ever since the recruit first met the team.

“When he came and played pickup (basketball games) with the team, he went right at guys,” Young said. “He isn’t afraid and is very competitive. When you are as versatile as he is, I can see him fitting in well with our offense.”

Carmody said Lee will have to continue to progress in order to be successful at the collegiate level.

“He needs to improve everywhere in his game, like everyone,” he said. “That’s what we like about Brandon is that he is constantly working to get better.”

Young agreed Lee would have to go through an adjustment period.

“He just needs the college experience,” he said. “The college game is just so much faster than high school. Every aspect of his game he needs to adjust upon coming here.”

The atmosphere at Welsh-Ryan felt more like a college game than a high school one. The arena was at capacity as 8,117 fans packed the stands.

“This is awesome for a high school game,” Thompson said. “It’s good for Northwestern also to get kids to come on campus and show them the university.”

Carmody said having recruits who are used to playing in big games ultimately will help NU basketball.

“He comes from a winning program, and the value of being in a program that wins cannot be underestimated,” the coach said at Lee’s signing press conference Nov. 13.

Lee already has tournament experience: He won the Illinois AA title last year with Peoria Central.

Ideally for the Cats, Lee, who Carmody called a “smart, all-around good player,” would bring a winning swagger to NU and help the team continue to climb its way up the Big Ten ladder.

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Under pressure (Men’s basketball)