Now in its sixth year, the Grant Holiday Boys Basketball Tournament has never crowned the same champion twice.
With the same eight teams invited each year, chances are that would happen sooner or later.
The host Bulldogs were going for sooner Thursday night, determined to give themselves a shot at a second title.
They fought back from a halftime deficit and dialed up the defensive intensity on McHenry in the second half to get a 65-49 victory that propelled them into tonight's championship game against Lakes (7 p.m.).
Ironically, Grant met up with Lakes in the first championship game of the Grant Holiday Tournament in 2006. The Bulldogs won the title that year, but have not been back to the championship game since.
After Grant won the first title, Lakes won in 2007, followed by Northridge Prep, Johnsburg and McHenry last year.
"We talked with the guys a lot about the tournament (and the history)," said Grant coach Wayne Bosworth, whose team improves to 8-4 on the season. "We were telling them about what a great opportunity we had with this game to get back to the championship game. And now, here we go."
The Bulldogs rode their tough defense (they outscored McHenry 23-11 in the fourth quarter) as well as some strong perimeter play right into the title game.
Senior guards Allen Lewis and Sean Wells took turns knocking down outside shots and beating their defenders to the basket. Lewis scored a game-high 18 points, including 4 three-pointers, while Wells added 17 points.
Forward Ilya Kadushin added 16 points for the Bulldogs. But unlike his 21-point effort against Johnsburg on Wednesday, many of Kadushin's points came from the perimeter.
Against Johnsburg, Kadushin teamed up with fellow forward Jared Helmich (29 points against Johnsburg) to score 50 points in the paint.
McHenry's defensive focus was to shut down Grant's inside game. The Warriors' 2-3 zone limited Helmich to just 3 points on the night.
But that's where Lewis and Wells came in.
"We have such a diverse team that anyone can score on any given night," Wells said. "If the defense tries to move up on one person, we have other guys who can step up and finish the job."
Lewis kept Grant in the game in the first half. He had 11 points by halftime. Then Wells came to life. He helped the Bulldogs close out the game with 10 fourth-quarter points.
"You try to game-plan for one person and then you've got to game-plan for three more," Lewis said. "It's kind of hard to stop all of us."
Down 28-23 at halftime and 36-27 a few minutes into the third quarter, Grant went on a 10-0 run to take a 37-36 lead with 1:16 left in the third quarter. Both Wells and Lewis had some big buckets during that stretch and Lewis finished the quarter with a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Grant a 42-38 lead heading into the fourth quarter, and all of the momentum.
"There was that four-minute stretch there in the third where the game just got away from us," said McHenry coach Tim Paddock, whose team drops to 3-6 on the season. "They are an explosive team.
"They're very quick and good off the bounce and they got some easy buckets and got some confidence."
Guard Jasper Taylor led McHenry, which will take on Richmond-Burton in tonight's third-place game (5:30 p.m.), with 14 points while forward Jamie Rammel added 12 points.
Round Lake 65, Johnsburg 57: It would have been easy for Round Lake to have been checked out.
On Wednesday in a loss to McHenry in the Grant Holiday Tournament, the Panthers blew a 7-point lead with only two minutes remaining in the game. They let McHenry close the game with a 12-0 run.
But Round Lake coach Jim Roberts says his players are resilient, and they sure did show it against Johnsburg on Thursday at Grant.
The Panthers put together one of their most impressive performances on the season in a 65-57 victory that included a 20-plus scoring effort by one player and a 30-plus scoring outburst by another.
"The guys were just sick about what happened (Wednesday night), just mentally sick about it," Roberts said. "But when they walked in this morning, they were shooting around, they were ready, they were up(beat). I said to one of our assistants, 'Our kids are so great, so resilient.' I mean, it would have been so easy to be defeated, but they were right back at it."
Leading the way was senior guard Juddon Carter, who got back to his binge scoring ways of last season and poured in a season-high 31 points, which included 6 three-pointers. Meanwhile, fellow senior guard Daniel Uriostegui added a career-high 23 points for the Panthers.
"This feels so great after what happened (Wednesday night)," said Carter, who drained 4 of his three-pointers in the second quarter to help Round Lake take a 5-point lead (34-29) into the locker room at halftime. "We just played more aggressive today. We came in with an open mind and we made better passes, were stronger with the ball and we knocked down shots.
"I feel like we'll be able to do this more often now. I feel like this is a turnaround for us because we know we can play at this level and we should be able to do that every time."
-- Patricia Babcock McGraw