There figured to be some tough lessons for an inexperienced and junior-dominated Grant boys basketball team.
But they won't be much tougher this season than what the Bulldogs experienced Friday night in the final round of pool play in the Richmond-Burton and Johnsburg tournament.
With 22½ seconds to play they seemed to be on their way to playing for a championship with a 5-point lead. But Collin Ridout's 2 free throws with 2.1 seconds left capped host Johnsburg's stunning 49-48 comeback victory.
"Down the stretch I guess we just let up," said Grant junior Steve Dunning, who had a team-high 13 points and 9 rebounds. "We thought we were probably going to go home, win the game and win the championship, but it didn't happen."
Instead, Grant (2-1) will play Grayslake North (2-1) for third place at 6 p.m. today at Johnsburg while the Skyhawks (3-0) face Rockford Jefferson (3-0) for the tourney title at 7:30 p.m.
"I don't think they got rattled," Johnsburg coach Mike Toussaint said of his veteran team with two three-year varsity players.
"We just didn't focus on what we needed to do at the end of the game to pull out a win," said Grant coach Wayne Bosworth after his team committed 27 turnovers against Johnsburg's extended 2-3 zone and diamond press. "It was obvious they were the more experienced team. We have a lot of inexperienced guys at the varsity level and it showed.
"For a lot of guys it was their first true away varsity game and a lot of our decision-making showed that some of us got caught up in it."
Grant had overcome the turnovers, foul trouble to Rayvon Jones and Ryan Noda and a series of challenges by Johnsburg. Senior reserve Keion Miller, who had all 4 of his points and 3 of his 4 rebounds in the fourth quarter, banked in a short drive over a defender for a 46-43 lead at 1:19. A deflection by Tom Blanchette (10 points, 13 rebounds) and Miller's hustle to throw the ball off a Johnsburg player to give Grant possession helped set up Noda's 2 free throws to make it 48-43 at 0:33.
Johnsburg appeared it would pay for missing 17 of its first 23 free throws -- including 10 straight -- and a rebounding deficit that ended up at 43-30. But after Marcus Huemann split 2 free throws with 22.5 seconds left, Henry Lobermeier grabbed the miss and that led to Ridout's off-balance 3 from the top of the key at 0:15.
Grant traveled four seconds later against a double team in the corner. Ben Dingman (13 points, 8 rebounds) missed a 3 but Ridout got the rebound, was fouled as he took a fallaway jumper and provided the odd twist with game-winning free throws as the Skyhawks finished just 9-for-27.
"Collin has ice in his veins and he was having a good time," Toussaint said after the junior went 5-for-6 at the line and hit three 3s for a game-high 20 points. "That's what makes him a special player."
Grant had one last shot out of a timeout when Dunning got free for a 30-footer on the run but it bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
"To me it looked good and I got really excited," Dunning said. "I thought it was going to hit off the backboard and go in but it came up short."
Now Grant hopes this difficult learning experience pays off in the long run.
"It's a very valuable lesson and it's going to make us reflect on how we have to pay attention to coach," Dunning said. "We can't be an individual team, we need to play as a team."
Bosworth believes that will happen with a team where Blanchette is the only senior starter.
"We have a lot of guys who have a lot of talent. The good part I'm excited about is they're going to keep getting better," Bosworth said. "Come January and February, when they have a lot more experience underneath their belt, it will be a fun time to be a part of this team."