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Cary-Grove sophomore Jason Gregoire could barely balance a bag of ice on his throbbing right index finger as he emerged from the visitors' locker room at Carmel Catholic.
Shaking a hand made the hero wince.
Oh, how that swelled finger hurt.
Not enough, however, that he couldn't calmly sink a pair of clutch free throws with 6.5 seconds left in overtime.
Gregoire's first toss bounced three times before falling through the net and tying the score. Then after Carmel tried to ice him with a timeout, he swished home the second free throw.
"I just followed through and stayed calm," Gregoire said.
When Carmel's Billy Kirby couldn't get a 3-pointer from the corner to go at the buzzer, Cary-Grove had escaped with a 43-42 nonconference win Wednesday night. Kirby's fourth-quarter shooting, which included a 3, had helped the Corsairs erase a pair of five-point deficits.
"That was a big win for us," Cary-Grove coach Ralph Schuetzle said after his squad improved to 5-1, while denying Carmel (4-2) a second straight victory in OT.
"They're a great defensive team," Schuetzle added of the Corsairs. "We were able to spread them out early in the second half and got some layups, and then they figured out how to counter our spread and started dropping. We just had to go back and forth to different offenses."
Carmel got a game-high 19 points, including five 3-pointers, from junior point guard Nickai Poyser. But the home team went just 3 of 12 from the foul line.
"Free throws messed us up," Poyser said. "That's all it is. We just got to make our free throws."
Gregoire injured his finger (on his shooting hand) while making a steal in the second quarter. He played through the pain.
"The ball just jammed it and caught it wrong," Gregoire said. "It's pretty stiff."
Cary-Grove enjoyed a 24-16 lead early in the second half, but Poyser helped bring Carmel back by sinking a trio of 3s, and the visitors held a 30-29 advantage entering the fourth.
"He saved us tonight," Carmel coach Tim Bowen said of Poyser. "He brought us back a couple of times. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have even been in the game. He played pretty good defense, too."
Poyser, who also had 4 steals and a blocked shot, tied the score at 37-37 when he hit a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in the fourth.
Greg Edkins' three-point play and Kirby's free throw had Carmel up 42-39 with 35.2 seconds left in overtime. But Cary-Grove rebounded Kirby's second foul shot and made a quick outlet pass, after Carmel pressed the rebounder, resulting in Matt Motzel's driving layup just six seconds later.
"Too excited," Bowen said of his team's over-aggressiveness on the missed foul shot. "That's what killed the game right there. If we don't jam the rebound, if we get back and force them to run some clock, then they have to force up a bad shot and we got a chance to rebound."
Carmel missed 2 free throws after the layup by Motzel (8 points). Gregoire then drove and drew contact, sending him to the line with the Trojans trailing 42-41.
"The first (free throw) I got pretty lucky. It bounced around and went in," said a smiling Gregoire, who finished with 6 points and 7 rebounds. "The crowd was really loud. That was the loudest crowd I've ever played in front of. It was nuts."
Schuetzle had no idea Gregoire was hurting until Gregoire held up his finger to show his coach after the game.
"To make pressure free throws like that with a sprained shooting finger," Schuetzle said, "that's pretty impressive."
Dan Lee, C-G's tallest starter at 6-4, had team bests of 13 points, including a 3-pointer, and 8 rebounds. Trojans guard Tyler Szydlo added 10 points.
"Our kids hung together and were tough as nails," Schuetzle said.
Carmel was coming off an overtime win over Huntley. The Corsairs, who won just 11 games last season, have lost their two games this season by a total of six points.
"In years past, we found ways to lose games," said senior forward Cullen Barr, who had 7 points and 6 rebounds. "We've grown from it, but out here tonight we really didn't show that we know what we're doing. We just got to buckle down, don't take any plays off and close them out."