Great players make great plays and there were a lot of great players on the floor Thursday night as Elk Grove met Crystal Lake Central in the semifinals of the championship pool at the Jacobs Holiday Classic in Algonquin.
Central's Chase Cane made his share en route to 27 points, but perhaps his biggest and smartest play involved a couple of bounces but no points. He inbounded the ball to himself off an Elk Grove defender with two seconds left to kill the clock and preserve a 61-59 win that kept the Tigers (11-0) unbeaten and put them in the title game at 7:30 p.m. today against Huntley.
"He carried us," on offense said his head coach, Rich Czeslawski. He had the answer every time upstart Elk Grove threatened, or led. In a wild fourth quarter, he hit a 3-pointer to make it 57-50 and seemingly over.
But after his fourth foul more or less handcuffed him, Elk Grove's Anthony Jimenez (15 points) hit a baseline jumper on a feed from Zach Solorio and foul-straddled Kishan Patel went coast-to-coast for a layin. After Corban Murphy tipped in a Cane coast-to-coast that missed, Elk Grove's steady Austin Amann (16 points) had the look of the night.
"That was a great look," at a 3 from the right wing, said Elk Grove (5-7) head coach Anthony Furman, much like the one he'd hit the day before to set up Patel's game-winning bucket against Rockford Jefferson.
And while it looked good out of his hand, he did wind up with 2 free throws moments later that knotted the score at 59-59 instead of giving Elk Grove the lead. And no one was more disappointed than the foul-troubled Amann, who was everywhere, double-teaming on defense, boxing out on the boards and distributing the ball with point guard Patel in foul trouble.
"We felt confident," he would say later of his team's outlook. Maybe "too confident," after building a double-digit lead in the first half, primarily on his overall floor play and Jimenez's uncanny perimeter shooting.
Central's height (6-foot-7 Kyle Fleck, 6-3 Murphy and 6-3 Nick DeCoster) and Cane's savvy were too much. Fleck, fouled on a drive, hit the game-winning free throws moments later and Elk Grove turned the ball over on an errant pass trying to inbound with 3.9 seconds left after Fleck's free throws.
It all erased a valiant effort by an undermanned, undersized Grenadiers' team, but it didn't undercut their underdog effort all tournament long. They will play for third place at 6 p.m. today against Hope.
"We know we can win," said Amann, after Elk Grove reached the tournament semifinals coming in with a 2-6 overall record. And with bench contributions from the likes of Devin Neill and Jimenez and a suddenly new-found offense, the Grens' outlook is looking up.
With Patel in foul trouble, Solorio (12 points), Jimenez and Neill stepped up and Jeff Miceli made Cane work for every one of his 27 points.
"Number 20 (Miceli) did an amazing job on me," said a worn-out Cane. "He was really physical."
"They're a good team," Central's Czeslawski said of the Grens. "If they have a shot at the end, they're going to make it interesting."
"Three (of 4 games played) came down to the last possession," Furman noted, and his club won two of them, very much due to averaging nearly 60 points per game in this tournament but only 44 per game heretofore. The defense has remained solid throughout.
"We're playing more confidently every day," Furman said.