Prep Basketball: East, Auburn move on to DeKalb; Lutheran falls in semis
By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
For most teams, a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter of a sectional final means you have your opponent right where you want them.
For the Rockford East E-Rabs, it was a reminder of what almost was. Last year, with an 8-point lead against Aurora Central Catholic, East could not hang on and was denied the championship.
This year was a different story as East pushed their lead further and held on for a 63-52 win over those same Chargers, giving East the IHSA Class 3A Sycamore sectional championship and their first sectional title in 28 years.
“We stayed aggressive at the end of the game,” East coach Roy Sackmaster said. “Last year, we played not not to lose. We didn’t have to get out of what we were doing. Teams that are more aggressive in the postseason usually win.”
Steve McNease led the way again for East with a game-high 22 points on a very efficient 10-13 shooting night. The senior saw triple teams most of the night, but was able to make his limited touches count most of the game.
“This is what I’m so proud of with Steve. In the past, Steve would start drifting to the perimeter,” Sackmaster said. “We tell Steve to be patient, flash to the ball and you will get your touches. That’s how much he’s grown as a player. He didn’t fight us or his teammates, which he did a lot earlier in the year.”
Another big key in finishing off the Chargers was senior Darshawn Pumphrey-King. The little big man his teammates call “DPK” pulled down 14 rebounds and scored 21 points, 17 of which came in the fourth quarter, including a 5-6 performance at the free-throw line.
“He was taking it strong to the basket when other people weren’t,” McNease said. “I wasn’t making my free throws, but he was making his.”
The early game wasn’t great for the E-Rabs. Aurora Central’s Robert DeMyers scored 7 early points and was a force on the rebounds on his way to finishing with 15 rebounds.
But East focused on the Chargers’ inside force in the second half, only allowing him 1 second-half point.
“Andrew Lantz, I told him just to go in there and beat them up,” Sackmaster said. “We held (DeMyers) to 8 points, that’s phenomenal. It’s the MVP of the game, in my opinion. Someone like Lantz taking away a big part of their offense, I think that is tremendous.”
East will face Peoria Central on Tuesday, March 13, in the Class 3A super sectionals at the Convocation Center on the campus of Northern Illinois University at 6 p.m. with a trip down state on the line.
“It’s a big opportunity to put East on the map,” McNease said. “People thought we were just a team with a black cloud over us, and we’re proving them wrong every game.”
Auburn 67, Elgin 56
After looking like they would cruise to another sectional title, the Auburn Knights found themselves clinging to a 3-point lead as the fourth quarter opened.
But the Knights knew they had the best player on the floor, as senior Fred Van Vleet scored 15 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter to lead Auburn to their second-straight IHSA Class 4A sectional championship.
LaMark Foote also scored 11 points in the Auburn victory, 9 coming in the fourth quarter as Auburn put the game away.
The Knights will also play Tuesday in DeKalb, against Gurnee Warren in the Class 4A super sectionals, immediately following the East game. Tip time is expected around 8 p.m.
“That is going to be an unbelievable atmosphere,” East coach Sackmaster said of the double-header. “At least half of that arena is going to be from Rockford. It’s going to be a situation where both of us will be cheering for each other, and that’s great for the public schools and the city of Rockford. We’re kind of cementing ourselves that we can play some ball, too.”
East’s McNease said the two schools can put their differences aside for one night to unite for a common cause.
“It’s going to be good to see two Rockford teams,” he said. “Although we’re rivals, and yeah, I want to play them again, but it’s good to see them back at the same place they were and I wish the best of luck to them.”
Normal University 55, Rockford Lutheran 52
The Rockford Lutheran Crusaders did everything they could possibly do after falling behind early.
It was the biggest team they had faced all year, and they trailed Normal University by 8 after one quarter in their IHSA Class 2A semfinal matchup.
Lutheran fought back to within 1 point in the last minute of the game, and had the ball with a chance to tie at the end, falling just short of their championship goal and falling to University 55-52.
“It seemed like we were one step or one play away from breaking it open,” Lutheran coach Tom Guse said. “I have a lot of trust in these guys, and they have come a long way from where we were at the start.”
The Crusaders did manage a brief tie at the beginning of the fourth quarter before falling behind by 7. But Derek Seyller hit his only two baskets of the night, 3-point shots to pull Lutheran back in to it.
After a timeout with 7 seconds left, Lutheran was able to get a look for Teyvious Montgomery for a 3, but he missed and the buzzer sounded.
“Normal took us out of what we wanted, and at the same time, we put ourselves in a spot to have a chance to win it at the end,” Guse said. “I’m very proud of the kids.”
Lutheran was able to follow that up with a 55-51 victory over Seaton Academy in the third-place game. Thomas Kopelman led the way for the Crusaders with 26 points.
“We talked about character and pride and heart,” Guse said. “It’s sometimes hard to get up for a third-place game when your dreams and all your goals were to get to the championship game. I had no doubts that our guys would get up for it, they’ve been great all year.”
Posted March 11, 2012
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