Tal came up big.
Okay. You got me.
But the sentence stands. Ziv Tal turned in a BIG-time performance in Highland Park High School’s hard-fought loss to visiting Deerfield High School 49-44 on Dec. 16.
His team fell short, but the junior guard, who has developed into a fun watch, arguably was the game MVP in this hotly contested outing, which drew a near capacity crowd on a chilly, snowy night.
Highland Park head coach Paul Harris also stated the obvious after watching Tal put 19 points in the scorebook.
“Ziv is really good,” he said.
“Nineteen points,” the coach added. “That’s good to see.”
Tal, a stoic and solidly built 6-foot, 185-pounder with pitch-dark hair, was smolderingly hot in the second quarter.
He fired in three three-pointers and capped off the eight-minute frame with a shot suitable for framing: a quick-released 15-footer from the left wing two seconds before the buzzer went off.
“To be honest, I really haven’t been hitting my threes,” said Tal. “But I continue to work on my outside shooting. It was nice to see it translate into a game.”
Tal’s 11-point outburst did wonders for the Giants (4-5, 2-1). They needed something, something truly turnaround-ish, after falling behind by 12 points, 17-5.
“Ziv doesn’t shy away from a challenge,” said Harris. “I really liked the way he responded in the second quarter. His play spurred us on.”
HP’s coaching staff entered the 2016-17 campaign feeling pretty good about Tal.
“Our team is following his lead this year,” said Harris. “He played a lot last year, but there were a lot of seniors on that team.
“He knows how much this team needs him,” the coach added. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Tal has turned into a true-blue combo guard. He can score the ball. He can dish it. He was credited with only two assists against Deerfield, but he constantly made good decisions with the ball.
And to his credit, he didn’t force up many shots in HP’s patient offense. He let the game come to him. He went 8-for-13 from the field.
“He’s got the ability to create his own shot,” said Harris. “And he does a good job of creating shots for others.”
Tal came up with one of the game’s head-turning plays early in the third quarter, when he jumped a passing lane, made a steal and converted the turnover into a fast break layup. Such a play is basketball’s version of football’s Pick Six.
This game also featured a friendly feud: Ziv Tal versus Alex Casieri.
Tal may have taken Quarter Two, but Deerfield’s Casieri won Quarter One by a landslide. The Warriors junior guard exploded out of the gate by nailing four straight head-shaking, high-arcing three-pointers from the right corner.
Tal was hardly surprised to see Casieri shoot like that.
The two are close friends — except on Game Night. They used to play on the same club basketball team, and they served as instructors at the Horseshoe Youth Basketball Camp in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, last summer.
“We’ve spent a lot of time together,” said Tal. “I know his game well. He knows mine.”
Casieri’s quick release is uncanny. His aim is even better.
“He’s a pretty amazing shooter,” Tal said.
Also amazing: Casieri took only two shots in periods No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4. He had a long three-pointer from — where else? — the right corner with 1:36 left in the third quarter to end up as the game’s second-leading scorer (15 points).
“We didn’t do a very good job of guarding him in the first quarter,” said Tal. “But after that, we didn’t let him beat us.”
But Deerfield, which defeated visiting Lake Forest 41-38 on Dec. 17 to improve its overall record to 5-3, found a way to win the game by attacking the inside with Ben Bizar (13 points), Zach Rothenberg (8 points) and William Murphy (7 points).
“The game had a lot of ebbs and flows,” Harris said. “We controlled the second and third quarters. They did the better job in the first and fourth quarters. It was anyone’s game with two minutes left.”
The Warriors closed out the win by going on a late 6-0 run and scoring six of the game’s last eight points.
“It was a great game. A lot of fun,” said Tal. “Just not the result we wanted.”
“I know that the scoreboard says that we lost,” Harris said. “But I’m pleased with the way we’re developing. We’re slowly making progress.”
Notable: HP Junior guard Daniel Michelon also finished in double digits (10 points) against Deerfield. The 5-foot-10 guard is playing with a fearless tenacity. … Jack Zeidler, the lone senior in HP’s starting lineup, ended up with eight points and seven rebounds. … Noah Shutan, a junior guard, hit a huge three-pointer with 3:51 left in the fourth quarter, cutting Deerfield’s lead to 43-42. … Camp Horseshoe, scheduled for Aug. 10-14, 2017, is a pretty big deal. HP’s Paul Harris has been working the camp for the past 11 summers. He’ll be joined by a number to top coaches from the area, including Stevenson’s Pat Ambrose and Deerfield’s Dan McKendrick. … The Giants will compete in the York Tournament over the holiday break. They open against Timothy Christian on Dec. 26 at 11:30 a.m. Lake Forest also will compete at York. The Scouts take on Stagg at 3 p.m.