Conant and St. Joseph like to use their annual nonconference boys basketball meetings as a primer for the state tournament.
There may not have been a frenzied postseason atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon in Hoffman Estates. But on the court it did have that feel as every possession and little thing mattered in a game where Conant held the biggest lead of 4 points three times.
St. Joseph (8-16) erased the last one by scoring 9 of the final 11 points to grind out a 35-32 victory at Perry Gymnasium.
"We've had some great battles with them over the years," said Conant coach Tom McCormack after his team dropped to 16-9 overall.
"Our games with Conant have always been this way," said St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore. "The year we won state (1999) we won (42-36) and we had a high-powered scoring team.
"They do such a good job of controlling tempo. It's a good game for both of us at this time of year to get ready for the tournament."
Conant, which lost a chance to get a share of the Mid-Suburban West title in a 3-point loss Friday to Fremd, looked as if it might take control in the fourth quarter.
London Dokubo (12 points, 4 assists) found Dylan Bartuch (9 points) for his third 3-pointer and Avery Osby turned 2 offensive rebounds into 2 free throws in a bonus situation for a 30-26 lead with 4:56 left.
But Conant lost a possession to increase its lead when an offensive foul was called on a pushoff near midcourt. A layup at 3:37 by Tom Jenkins, who scored 8 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, started St. Joseph's comeback.
Conant was 2-for-5 on free throws in the final 3:33 with a missed 1-and-1. It finished 6-for-11, shot just 36.7 percent from the field (11-for-30) and gave up 18 points off 13 turnovers.
"It was a tough weekend and we were right there in both games," McCormack said. "Ultimately the free-throw line was the difference and we gave up a lot of points off turnovers.
"I thought our kids really competed defensively and did a nice job each of the last two nights."
A busted play out of a four-corners set gave the lead for good to St. Joseph, which is headed for just its second losing season since 1975-76 under Pingatore. Conant tried to trap a pass that was fumbled in the corner but Jenkins got open to pound home a two-hand dunk to make it 34-32 with 1:23 left.
Bartuch missed a 3 at 0:17, Joe Edwards split 2 free throws with 13.6 seconds left to set the final score and Dokubo and Sean Bourke missed tying 3 attempts in the final five seconds.
"We're looking forward to it," McCormack said of going to Buffalo Grove on Tuesday before ninth-seeded Conant hosts No. 8 St. Patrick in a Class 4A regional that includes top-seed Notre Dame. "But we have some work to do."